Construction is Most Likely Profession to Use Opioids and Cocaine

A recent study has found that construction workers are more likely to use drugs due to the physical nature of construction work.

Shutterstock/ Kimberly Boyles

A recent study conducted at NYU has found that construction workers are more likely to use drugs than workers in other professions. The study, which was done by the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research, concluded that of all occupations construction workers are most likely to use cocaine and misuse opioids obtained through a prescription.

The study also found that construction is the second most likely profession to use marijuana.

“It makes sense that we see higher rates of construction workers using pain-relieving substances such as opioids and marijuana, given the labor-intensive nature of their work and high rates of injuries,” said Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at NYU.

The injuries and body fatigue that can be caused by the physical and repetitive actions necessary in construction labor means that construction professionals are more likely to seek out ways to get treatment for their pain. This can lead to the use of legal, prescribed opioids (which can very easily be abused) as well as the use of illegal pain relief alternatives like marijuana and cocaine.

The study used data from 2005-2014 that included responses from 293,492 participants, 16,610 of which were construction workers. 3.4 percent of the construction workers in the study admitted to misusing prescription opioids, 1.8 percent admitted to cocaine use, and 12.4 percent admitted to using marijuana in some form.

The National Safety Council recently issued a statement in which they took a firm stance against the use of cannabis for workers in safety sensitive positions.

“There is no level of cannabis use that is safe or acceptable for employees who work in safety sensitive positions,” stated the NSC.

Many construction companies require drug tests as part of the their employee screening process. However, Ompad suggested that drug tests fail to specifically identify drug abuse and that education, prevention, and harm reduction are more proactive ways to address the problem.

“Not all marijuana and opioid use is problematic, and drug testing cannot distinguish recreational use from medical use. Thus, strict workplace drug policies also have the potential to harm companies and reduce employment opportunities for workers,” said Ompad. “Coupled with reports of high overdose mortality among construction workers, our findings suggest that prevention and harm reduction programming is needed to prevent drug-related risks and mortality among this population.”

Drug use and specifically prescription opioid misuse is a major problem facing the construction industry today, particularly in certain parts of the U.S. A 2018 study done by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that from 2011 to 2015 construction workers died from opioid overdoses at six times the average rate.

Here are some resources if you or someone you know needs help battling an addiction: