Midwest construction industry hit hard by opioid epidemic

A new report shows the Midwest construction industry is being hit particularly hard by the ongoing national opioid crisis.

“What makes construction so vulnerable to this epidemic is the physical nature of the work,” said report author Jill Manzo, Midwest researcher at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. “Injury rates are 77 percent 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.”

This report was created by the nonprofit Midwest Economic Policy Institute. It found nearly 1,000 construction workers in the region died as a result of this public health crisis in 2015. That equates to about a $5.2 billion loss to the Midwest construction industry in terms of lost production, lost family income and other costs.

According to MEPI’s count, 92 construction workers died in Wisconsin from opioid overdoses in 2015. That’s more than the totals for Minnesota, Indiana and Iowa, but less than the totals for Michigan, Illinois and the worst state in the region for opioid overdoses: Ohio, which had 380 construction workers die from opioid overdoses in 2015.

The cost of those 92 deaths to Wisconsin’s construction industry was calculated at $524 million — a little over 25 percent of Ohio’s $2 billion cost.

According to the National Safety Council’s 2017 Survey on Drug Use and Substance Abuse, 15 percent of construction workers struggle with substance abuse. That’s almost double the national average.

Other research has found opioids account for about 20 percent of spending on prescription drugs in the construction industry, the report says. And in the Midwest, up to 80 percent of workers compensation claims involve opioids.

The report also shows that each construction worker with an untreated substance use disorder costs the employer $6,800 per year in excess health care costs, absenteeism and turnover costs. But when that employee is in recovery from the disorder, that cost is diminished.

Manzo derived her analysis from state-level opioid death rates reported by the Kaiser Family Foundation, and combined that with recent research — including a report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that found construction workers are more than seven times as likely to die of an overdose.

As well as providing data on this subject, the report makes several policy recommendations: limiting opioid dosages; updating drug testing policies; promoting treatment in health insurance plans; educating employees about pain management; putting injured workers in low-risk positions while they heal; and guaranteeing two weeks of paid sick leave.

“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.”

See the report here: http://midwestepi.files.wordpress.com/2018/02/opioids-and-construction-final2.pdf

–By Alex Moe