Construction jobs are among the most physically demanding jobs in the world, and workers face severe risk of injuries and even death from construction accidents. Now, a new study shows construction workers also face an increased risk of drug abuse.
A new study by the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at New York University published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows that construction workers are the profession most likely to abuse cocaine and prescription opioids. The construction industry is one of the largest in United States and the unique risks of this type of work which include height-related hazards, overexertion and accidents involving tools and machinery lead to high injury rates.
These injuries often require medical intervention where opioid drugs are prescribed to deal with temporary or chronic pain. Because these drugs are highly-addictive, misuse of them can continue long past the period of time in which they are prescribed. In addition, like cocaine and marijuana, opioids are also taken for non-medical reasons including only for the experience of getting high.
The study found that construction workers had the highest occurrence of misusing opioid drugs compared with all other professions (3.4 percent to 2 percent). In addition, construction workers had the highest prevalence of cocaine use compared with all other professions (1.8 percent to 0.8 percent). Finally, construction workers had the second highest occurrence of marijuana use compared to all other professions (12.3 percent to 7.5 percent).
The NYU research team based their findings on data gathered between 2005 and 2014. Construction workers made up 5.6% of the 293,500 workers in the study. They compared construction workers against people in 13 other job categories. These results are consistent with prior studies that have shown construction workers to have an overdose rate that is six to seven times higher than the average.
Lead researcher Danielle Ompad has said the high-risk and physically demanding nature of construction work is the most likely explanation for this drug use. "They do experience a quite a bit of pain, and not just from injuries," Ompad said. "I think a lot of them are prescribed opioids, and when their doctors stop prescribing opioids and their pain is still there, they continue to use them anyway."
She also posited that workers probably use cocaine to help them stay alert. "It's about being productive," Ompad said. "They are tired. This is hard work. And I think cocaine helps some people work better or longer."
The use of marijuana is likely due to the stress associated with the job, including dealing with stretches of unemployment or underemployment. The study showed that workers that were unemployed in the past week, or were working for three or more employers were more likely to use marijuana or abuse opioids.
The study also showed the workplace drug policies, including drug testing during hiring and random alcohol and drug testing during work has been effective in reducing abuse of these drugs. These policies were especially effective in protecting against marijuana use.
More importantly, doctors can also help stem the use of these drugs by pointing injured workers toward non-drug options including physical therapy, acupuncture, and massage. Construction workers are vital members of society who literally help build our futures. It is important that we all work hard to ensure they can live the safest and healthiest possible.
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