Construction’s Opioid Epidemic

Construction workers suffer the highest rate of job-related injury and illness compared with all other occupations, and opioids make up 20 percent of total spending on prescription drugs in the industry.

May 8, 2018
A pile of pills
Photo: Unsplash/Joshua Coleman

The opioid epidemic has taken a grim toll on the construction industry, including lost lives, lost revenue, excess expense, and high turnover. Construction workers suffer the highest rate of job-related injury and illness compared with all other occupations, and opioids make up 20 percent of total spending on prescription drugs in the industry. The pressure to quickly get back to work after injury may also lead to increased opioid use.

A new report by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute confirms that Midwestern states have been hit hard. Ohio had the highest estimated rate of opioid overdoses in construction, the highest rate of fatal opioid overdoses for the total population, and the highest estimated number of construction worker deaths from opioid overdoses.

Wisconsin is estimated to have the highest long-term cost per construction fatality, which includes lost production, lost income, and pain and suffering. The lowest estimated cost is in Iowa. The total estimated cost of fatal opioid overdoses for construction workers per year in the seven Midwestern states studied is nearly $5.2 billion.

The report offers seven recommendations for contractors, labor unions, and elected officials, including changes to health care policies, expanded education, changes to a worker’s duties while taking prescription drugs post-injury, substance abuse treatment funding, and expanded offerings for the amount of paid sick leave.

The report concludes that construction firms must take a more preventative approach. The current method of handling the opioid crisis is expensive and unsustainable, given rising costs and the continuing labor shortage.

“Taking tangible steps to combat this crisis is a moral and economic imperative for both industry leaders and elected officials,” says report author Jill Manzo.

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