Opioid Crisis Hits Hard on American Construction Workers

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Robison Wells

According to a new report from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Opioids have commonly been prescribed to construction workers to treat pain caused by these occupational injuries. Workers in the industry also have higher rates of opioid overdose death compared with other groups.”

Because of construction’s nature, workers are more prone to accidents and injury than most other professions. Various construction professions, including skilled and unskilled labor, consistently rank in America's top fifteen most dangerous jobs. Workers can become addicted to opioid pain killers, which can lead to street drug use.

A study in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that construction workers are more likely to use drugs than workers in other professions.

Many states have declared the opioid crisis a state emergency, including North and South Carolina. These states have created a plan of action to deal with the epidemic. The plan includes the following points for employers to consider:

• Recovering addicts and employees using properly prescribed drugs may be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act

• Leave to seek treatment for substance abuse is covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act

• OSHA encourages drug testing upon suspicion that drug use factors into workplace accidents; such testing cannot be used to penalize employees for reporting injuries or illnesses.

Employers should already have written and posted policies about drug use and testing. Employers also can benefit from providing employee assistance programs. NIOSH recommends that if an employer has questions regarding any of these policies, they should contact legal counsel.

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