Opioid addiction affects people from every background and profession. Addiction can happen quickly and can develop even during treatment for routine injuries and ordinary surgical procedures. The construction industry in America has been particularly hard hit by the opioid epidemic. The effects have been deadly and have made it more difficult for construction companies to maintain healthy workforces.

An estimated 15.1 percent of construction workers use drugs in ways other than their intended use, and the costs to the industry have been dear, both in terms of human casualties and in terms of added costs. A construction company that employs 100 people and happens to be located in a state that is particularly hard hit by opioid use can expect to spend an average of nearly $41,000 extra per year due to opioid addiction.

Why Opioid Abuse Is Prevalent in the Construction Industry

Several reasons account for high levels of opioid misuse in the construction industry, and many of them have to do with demographics. For one thing, the construction industry is male-dominated, and men, in general, are likelier to abuse substances than women are. For another thing, the construction worker demographic is largely composed of older workers who stuck with the industry during the disastrous 2008 construction bust in the United States, as well as much younger workers who only started working construction after the economy rebounded.

Older workers with many years in the trade are likelier to deal with chronic use injuries and are likelier to have experienced on-the-job injuries as well as the typical injuries that develop with aging. Much younger workers are likelier to try drugs for recreational purposes than are older workers. These two population segments account for much of the construction worker demographic.

Finally, there is the simple fact that construction can be dangerous work, and on-the-job injuries are more common than they are in many other industries.

The Dangerous Cycle of Injuries and Opioid Use

Though opioids are unequaled for their ability to relieve serious pain, there are short- and long-term consequences for taking them. The person who experiences an on-the-job injury may be prescribed an opioid. If the drug is taken for longer than strictly necessary, the worker risks having slower reflexes and dulled reaction on the job, which increases the chances for further injuries. The result can be a rapid downward spiral of opioid use and injury, with each feeding off the other. It is a problem with devastating personal effects as well as negative effects on the construction industry as a whole.

Why It Is Hard for Construction Companies to Talk about It

Organizations studying opioid addiction have had difficulty collecting information from construction companies, so it could be that the rates of opioid abuse in construction are under-reported. It is not that construction company executives are in denial, but they genuinely fear major insurance hikes as well as damage to their reputations if they talk about opioid abuse by construction workers.

Change is happening, in the form of trades beginning to work with recovery communities to encourage addiction treatment for people who need it. Stigma and fear of privacy loss is a major factor in construction workers (and others) being reluctant to seek addiction treatment, and these are beginning to be addressed too.

Addiction Treatment Is the Way Forward

Society has learned much about what does not work when it comes to addressing the opioid crisis and drug abuse in general. Communities have learned they cannot arrest their way out of addiction, and more people are realizing that addiction is fundamentally a physical disease that alters the brain and has significant behavioral components as well. Addiction treatment is the only way forward.

Personalized, comprehensive addiction treatment that addresses the whole person and accounts for co-occurring physical and mental illnesses is the starting point. Follow-up and aftercare services that help people move from addiction treatment back into the community are other crucial components of successfully tackling the opioid epidemic.

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