Of all professions polled in a recent survey, workers in the construction industry are the most likely to use cocaine and misuse prescription opioids, according to a study out of New York University. They're also the second most likely to use marijuana, behind those with service jobs, it concluded.
The construction, mining, and extraction industries are among the largest sectors in the United States. The hazards of this type of work, including falls, injuries from overexertion, and being struck by or caught in heavy machinery, result in high injury and fatality rates. In particular, injuries from repetitive, strenuous work can lead to treatment or self-treatment with pain medication such as marijuana or opioids.
"Construction workers are at an increased risk for drug use, which makes them vulnerable to work-related injuries or even overdose deaths," said Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at NYU College of Global Public Health, deputy director of CDUHR, and the study's lead author. In Ohio and Massachusetts, recent studies have shown that construction workers were six to seven times more likely than other workers to die from an opioid overdose.
Using a decade of data (2005-2014) from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a nationally representative samples of U.S. adults, Ompad and her colleagues analyzed responses from 293,492 participants. They compared 16,610 construction, extraction, and mining workers (who made up 5.6 percent of the sample) 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 percent vs. 2 percent) and cocaine use (1.8 percent vs. 0.8 percent). Construction workers also had the second highest prevalence of marijuana use after those in service jobs (12.3 percent vs. 12.4 percent, compared with 7.5 percent in non-construction occupations).
"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 Ompad.