Construction workers are more likely to use drugs than workers in other industries, according to new American research.
The study from New York University, which was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, found construction workers were the most likely of all occupations to use cocaine and misuse prescription opioids, as well as the second most likely to use marijuana.
The construction, mining, and extraction industries are among the largest sectors in the United States, and researchers say injuries from repetitive, strenuous work can often lead to treatment or self-treatment with pain medication such as marijuana or opioids.
NYU College of Global Public Health associate professor, and study lead author, Danielle Ompad, said construction workers are at “an increased risk for drug use, which makes them vulnerable to work-related injuries or even overdose deaths.”
“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.”
In the study, researchers analysed a decade of data (2005-2014) from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from nearly 300,000 participants. Results from the 17,000 construction, extraction, and mining workers were then compared to those working in 13 other occupations.
Participants were asked about their employment and workplace drug policies, as well as whether they used drugs including marijuana and cocaine within the past month. They were also asked about their use of opioids for nonmedical reasons, such as taking opioids not prescribed to them or taking them only for the experience of getting high.
The researchers found that, compared to all other professions, construction workers had the highest prevalence of misusing prescription opioids (3.4 per cent vs. 2 per cent) and cocaine use (1.8 per cent vs. 0.8 per cent).
Construction workers also had the second-highest prevalence of marijuana use after those in service jobs (12.3 per cent vs. 12.4 per cent, compared with 7.5 per cent in non-construction occupations).
The researchers also observed that having unstable work or missing work was linked to being more likely to use drugs, and that workplace drug policies were more “protective” against marijuana use than the use of cocaine or misuse of prescription opioids.
For employers, it is important to note that workplace alcohol testing, drug testing during the hiring process, random drug testing, and working for an employer that fires employees with a positive drug test were all associated with lower odds of marijuana use.
“In the high-risk settings of construction work, where safely handling hazardous equipment is critical for reducing harms for workers, drug testing and other workplace substance use policies may play a role in protecting workers. However, 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.”
Read the full release here.