Construction workers most at risk of opioid-related overdoses

Construction workers are seven times more likely to die of opioid-related overdoses than the average worker.

The construction industry has one of the highest injury rates in the U.S. Opioids have commonly been prescribed to construction workers to treat the pain caused by occupational injuries. While opioids are effective for treating pain, their frequent and widespread use has led to increased dependence, addiction and unintended overdoses.

Unintentional overdoses accounted for 388 workplace deaths in 2020.

Provisional data from Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) National Center for Health Statistics indicate there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States between April 2020 and April 2021, an increase of 28.5 percent from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before.

Overdose deaths from opioids increased to 75,673, up from 56,064 the year before.

Overdose deaths from synthetic opioids (primarily fentanyl), psychostimulants such as methamphetamine. Overdose deaths from cocaine deaths also increased, as did deaths from natural and semi-synthetic opioids, such as prescription pain medication.

Substance use disorders by occupation

According to the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago and the National Safety Council, construction, mining and service occupations have high rates of alcohol and other drug use disorders. Education, healthcare, professional and protective services jobs have lower rates, However, even in occupations with the lowest rates, one worker in 12 has a substance use disorder (SUD).

  • Construction trades and extraction workers – 19 percent.
  • Service occupations, except protective – 15.6 percent.
  • Transportation and material moving workers – 13.9 percent.
  • Installation, maintenance and repair workers – 13.5 percent.
  • Sales occupations – 13.4 percent.
  • Entertainers, sports, media and communications – 13 percent.
  • Production, machinery setters, operators and tenders – 12.9 percent.
  • Executive/administrative/managerial/financial – 11 percent.
  • Farming, fishing, forestry occupations – 10.9 percent.
  • Technicians and related support occupations 10.6 percent.
  • Office and administrative support workers – 10.6 percent.
  • Protective service occupations – 9.9 percent.
  • Professionals (not education, entertainment or media) – 8.9 percent.
  • Education, health and related occupations – 8.0 percent.

Regardless of whether employers primarily have workers in occupations with higher or lower rates, all should review their workplace substance use policies and programs to ensure worker safety and health.


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