Statistics are showing that opioid abuse among construction workers is reaching crisis levels within the industry.

According to the Midwest Economic Policy Institue (MEPI), close to 1,000 construction workers lost their lives as a result of an opioid related overdose in 2015. All of these deaths happened in 7 Midwestern states—those monitored by the MEPI. The information was recorded in their 2018 report titled Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Among Midwest Construction Workers.

Furthermore, between the years of 2011 and 2015, records show that the number of opioid related deaths among construction workers accounted for 25% of the total number among all job holders in the state of Massachusetts.

Suffice it to say that when we get our hands on the nationwide statistic, it’s sure to be jaw dropping.

It comes with the territory

Sadly, it often starts out innocently enough.  The construction industry is an extremely physically demanding field of employment. Injuries abound in the field and workers’ compensation claims prove that 44% of them warrant at least one prescription for opioids.

Moreover, until recently, physicians commonly prescribed synthetic opioids to treat the on-going pain that many long-term employees face after years in the industry.

Forming a drug addiction is the last thing on someone’s mind when they’re recovering from an injury or experiencing chronic pain due an old one. They just want to find relief!

The problem stems from the fact that opiates and their derivatives are highly addictive.

Alternatives aren’t always covered

It’s no secret that 11 of the 20 professions least likely to have health insurance fall within the construction industry. Sadly, when injuries occur in these fields, they’re often serious.

Unfortunately, our bodies quickly build tolerance to and dependence on these types of pain relievers. People are likely to form an addiction to the drug before they even realize it’s happening. This is setting them up for the potential of spiraling out of control. When your body is craving something, it can impair judgement. Workers who use drugs on the job increase their risk of being involved in a serious accident.

Furthermore, they’re putting others at risk of the same.

Real and present danger

One of the most commonly prescribed synthetic opioids is Oxycontin, a brand name for oxycodone. It’s popular among drug users and is taken in pill form or crushed for snorting. Some abusers mix the crushed pill with water and inject it directly into the blood stream.

It’s extremely addictive because it works in the pleasure center of the brain. The euphoric reaction brings an extreme sense of pleasure while masking any pain the user is experiencing. Unfortunately, though, because our body is quick to develop a tolerance to the drug, it takes larger and larger doses to achieve the same affect.

If the user finds themselves unable to afford or acquire a prescription, they’re likely to turn to the street. Often it becomes to expensive to continue using the drug. Statistics show that addicts are 40 times more likely to turn to heroin because it provides similar results and is more affordable.

Synthetic opioids, including oxymorphone, hydrocodone, and hydromorphone, aren’t detected on standard opiate drug testing panels. If employers suspect they’re a problem within the workforce, they should add the extended opiate test panel to their company drug test. The extended opiate panel applies to all drug testing methods and identifies these drugs for various lengths of time depending on the test type.

Reaching the masses

The construction industry employs more than 10.3 million Americans. It encompasses a vast array of employers and employees. Huge corporations employ thousands of workers while small town companies might consist of the boss and his helper. Because of the diversity, there may not be one single approach that will be the solution to the drug problem that plagues the industry.

Of course, that’s the case no matter what industry we’re talking about really.

Drug abuse is everywhere. The opioid epidemic is raging out of control across the nation. Marijuana is showing up on an ever increasing number of employee drug tests—a large percentage of them being in the construction industry by the way. As states continue to legalize the drug, it’s not likely to change.

Seeking the solution

Pre-employment drug testing can help weed out potential drug users, however, many just stop using until the test is over. Threatening to fire someone who is caught using or testing positive for drugs—and having policies in place to back it up—will likely curb recreational drug use. However, someone with a substance abuse problem isn’t likely to heed the warning.

Employers that want to curb drug use within the company should take a proactive approach. Here are some ways to reach out to employees in a positive way.

  • Participate in a drug-free workplace program.
  • Reach out to employees periodically noting that you’ll help anyone acknowledging they have a substance abuse problem seek help. It would be great if they knew going in that they have a job to return to upon completing a program.
  • Schedule on-site training courses alerting employees to the dangers of drug use and the horrors of addiction.
  • Encourage employees to come to you if they know of someone using drugs in the workplace.
  • Listen to ideas employees have about how to battle drug abuse within the company.

Educating your workforce about the dangers of drug use allows them to make informed decisions. It can also encourage someone with a substance abuse problem to seek help. Employees that realize you’re taking a stand against drug use in the workplace or on the job-site for safety’s sake lets them know you care about what happens to them.

It gives them a sense of belonging.

A voice.

When employees feel they have a voice, it empowers them to do great things.

That can include kicking drug abuse for good.