The opioid crisis is quietly killing America’s construction workers. A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that construction laborers have a higher risk of heroin overdose and are more likely to die of a drug overdose than any other occupation in the nation.
The Opioid Crisis Sweeps the Nation
Opioids, a class of drugs that includes heroin and synthetic pain relievers like oxycodone and morphine, have become a major problem for construction workers who seek relief from pain. Although opioids are sometimes prescribed for work-related injuries, they are highly addictive and can lead to heroin addiction and even death.
Opioid overdoses have increased rapidly in the last few years. One government study found that overdoses reported in hospital rooms jumped 30 percent between 2016 and 2017.
- In the Midwest, nearly 1,000 laborers died in 2015 as a result of opioid-related overdoses.
- In Ohio, construction workers accounted for one in seven of the state’s fatal overdoses between 2010 and 2016.
America’s Laborers at Risk
The 10 million-plus construction workers in America are at an increased risk for opioid abuse, because they are more likely to experience pain than other types of workers. Opioids may be prescribed when laborers are injured or out on Workers Compensation leave. The issue is that these drugs are not easy to stop once started.
Labor Unions Call for Change
In January, North America’s Building Trades Unions, a federation of 14 unions, established a task force to tackle the opioid crisis. The labor organization recommended a course of action that included:
- Peer Support Programs
What to do about Opioid Abuse
Opioids are a powerful class of drugs that must be taken with caution. As a result, contracting businesses have instituted new policies to protect their workforce.
3 Things Employers can do to Help
- Educate workers about the dangers of opioids
- Give laborers the opportunity to receive addiction treatment
- Limit injuries that cause workers to turn to opioids for relief
For construction workers who haven’t yet taken opioids, the best course of action may be to avoid this class of medications entirely.
There are other options available, including physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs. A treatment plan without opioids can help to prevent workers from experiencing a downward spiral, which could lead to poor work performance, more injuries, loss of employment and even death.
Since pain and injury are likely to be part of a construction worker’s life, it’s time for both employers and laborers to recognize the dangers of opioids, and work together to solve this growing problem.