A new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence shows what many employers in the industry already know and are struggling to control on their jobsites: out of all occupations, construction workers are the most likely to use cocaine and misuse opioids. The construction industry involves some of the toughest, most hazardous working conditions on the planet. It should come as no surprise that many laborers in the industry turn to hard drugs to cope with harsh working conditions; however, that doesn’t mean that employers are without recourse.
In this editorial, the Florida contractor lawyers at Cotney Construction Law discuss the above study and what steps employers can take to keep their jobsites safe while providing resources for employees suffering from substance abuse. Remember, you are never powerless to help the workers under your watch.
An Industry at Risk
The study conducted by the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at New York University College of Global Health used a decade of data and responses from 293,492 participants. Participants were compared by occupation and asked about their prescription and illicit drug use as well as their company’s drug policies. The findings conclude that, compared to other occupations, construction workers have
- The highest prevalence of misusing prescription opioids
- The highest prevalence of using cocaine
- The second highest prevalence of using marijuana (second to those in service jobs)
These findings are incredibly disheartening for advocates of the construction industry. In 2017 alone, over 47,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose — 36 percent of those deaths resulted from prescription opioids. In the same year, over 15,000 Americans died from overdoses involving heroin — a figure that will only grow as heroin use continues to increase among men and women across all age groups and income levels.
For employers, the above facts and figures should be taken as a singular concern. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, people who are addicted to alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription painkillers are more likely to be addicted to heroin. In fact, the CDC reports that people who are addicted to:
- Alcohol are 2x more likely to be addicted to heroin
- Marijuana are 3x more likely to be addicted to heroin
- Cocaine are 15x more likely to be addicted to heroin
- Prescription opioids 40x more likely to be addicted to heroin
If you believe that alcohol or marijuana use is the lesser of two evils, you are only enabling your workers to pursue harder drugs. As we’ll get into below, the only way to combat cocaine and heroin use within your workforce is to stamp out illicit drug use completely.
A Vicious Cycle
What makes construction workers so susceptible to drug use? The study says it best: “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.”
We’ve previously discussed the prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders resulting from repetitive motion as well as the fatal hazards and levels of exhaustion that construction workers often have to deal with, especially while working after dark. When you combine all of this with the stress of working in these conditions, you have an environment ripe for substance abuse.
What’s worse is the cyclical nature of substance abuse in the construction industry. By using cocaine and opioids to cope with injuries, construction workers are only increasing their odds of succumbing to injury and feeding their addiction. In order to prevent injuries, you will need to implement a workplace drug policy reviewed by a Florida contractor lawyer that prevents a drug-impaired worker from ever stepping foot on your jobsite.
The Start of a Workplace Drug Policy
To begin, your company should be conducting drug testing on new hires and current employees alike. Only by showing your workers that you’re serious about opioid and cocaine use can you begin to address illicit drug use in your company. However, drug testing cannot distinguish between prescription and recreational drug use, and an employer can find themselves in hot water for firing an employee who is taking prescription medication. What are employers to do? Do you punish or help an employee addicted to cocaine, opioids, heroin, and other substances? The answers to these questions should be contained in your employee manual.
The Need for an Employee Manual
An employee manual drafted by a Florida construction attorney can help you maintain this balancing act by laying the groundwork for dismissing workers who refuse help and pose a danger to themselves and everyone around them, and by setting up harm reduction practices to help workers who want to end their addiction. An employee manual can make drug policies, such as drug testing and disciplinary actions, crystal clear to workers and new hires. The construction industry may have the highest prevalence of cocaine use and opioid misuse, but by implementing workplace drug policies and presenting them in an up-to-date employee manual, you can foster a work environment free from injury, hazards, and illicit drug use.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.