According to a report from The Center for Construction Research and Training, construction workers are among the segments of the U.S. population that opioids have hit the hardest.
“Recent state-level studies of opioid overdose deaths show that construction workers are six to seven times more likely to die of an overdose than workers in other professions,” the report stated.
The report noted that 65 unintentional overdose fatalities occurred in the construction industry in 2018, which is greater than nine-fold increase from the seven recorded in 2011. The figure also represented a 35% climb from the 48 overdose deaths recorded in 2017.
Between 2011 and 2017, one in four construction workers with work-related injuries used prescribed opioid pain relievers compared to 8.9% of those who were not injured.
Older construction workers were more likely to use prescribed opioid pain relievers, while younger employees were more likely to use illicit drugs. Workers aged 25-54 were more likely to be overdose fatalities than older workers.
Between 2011 and 2017, the number of overdose fatalities for construction laborers was 42. There were 18 foremen, 17 carpenters, 15 painters, 11 plumbers, 10 electricians, 7 roofers and 6 heating/air conditioning mechanics.
Demographically, according to the report, overdose fatalities were disproportionately high among workers who were white, non-Hispanic and in the Northeast. Overdose fatalities also varied by employment characteristics where they were higher among construction laborers, workers in residential construction and those who were self-employed.
“The findings suggest that the patterns of prescribed opioid use and self-related illicit drug use were quite different, but both were attributed to worker demographics, employment status, and insurance coverage,” the report stated. “In particular, construction workers suffering work-related injuries were more than twice as likely to use prescribed opioids or non-opioid analgesics as those who were not injured.”
The report also noted that, while the impact of opioids on the construction industry and its workers is becoming clearer, there remains much more that needs to be learned to understand and respond to the damage they are causing. In the meantime, the report suggested intervention strategies should include improving worker safety and employer education, ensuring effective treatment of substance use disorders and supporting workers in recovery.