Midwest Economic Policy Institute: Opioid epidemic devastating Midwest construction industry

Contact:  Todd Stenhouse,  916-397-1131 (cell), toddstenhouse@gmail.com

Chicago:  America’s opioid epidemic is a broad ranging public health crisis that killed nearly 1,000 Midwest construction workers at a cost of more than $5 billion to the region’s construction industry in 2015, according to estimates in a new report by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute.

Read the Report, “Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Among Midwest Construction Workers,” Here.

Read an Executive Summary Here.

“What makes construction so vulnerable to this epidemic is the physical nature of the work,” said report author Jill Manzo.  “Injury rates are 77% higher in construction than other occupations, and the financial incentive to get back to work before their bodies are healed is leading many down a path that can ultimately lead to abuse and even death.”

The report notes that according to the National Safety Council ’s 2017 Survey on Drug Use and Substance Abuse, 15% of construction workers struggle with substance abuse—nearly twice the national average.  Other research has found that opioids account for about 20% of all total spending on prescription drugs in the construction industry—far higher than its share in other industries.  And across the Midwest 60% to 80% of all workers compensation claims have involved opioids.

To estimate the regional impact of the epidemic on Midwest construction workers, Manzo first analyzed state-level opioid death rates reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation alongside recent research from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that found construction workers are more than seven times more likely to die of an overdose.  Ohio workers have been hardest hit by the epidemic by far, followed by Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois.

The industry’s cost from these fatalities, adjusted for inflation to 2017 dollars from a study that used data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics by medical researchers at the University of California, Davis, topped more than $5 billion for the region. The $5 billion estimate includes lost production, lost family income, and other costs every year for construction workers and their families.

The report highlights a range of policy recommendations—from limiting opioid dosage, updating drug testing policies, and promoting treatment in health insurance plans to educating employees about responsible pain management, temporarily putting injured workers in low-risk positions, and guaranteeing two weeks of paid sick leave—to help employers and policymakers combat the crisis.

“Untreated substance abuse can cost contractors thousands of dollars each year in healthcare, absenteeism, and turnover costs, while preventing abuse or getting an employee into recovery can ultimately save thousands of dollars,” Manzo added.  “Taking tangible steps to combat this crisis is a moral and economic imperative for both industry leaders and elected officials.

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