The opioid crisis has had a profound effect on communities across the country, but it has been especially devastating for construction workers in the Midwest, according to a recent report from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute (MEPI), St. Paul, Minnesota.
The institute published “Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Among Midwest Construction Workers” in February. The report found that opioids killed nearly 1,000 construction workers in 2015—a fatality rate more than seven times higher than workers in other industries. These fatalities are estimated to have cost the region’s construction industry more than $5 billion.
The following is the breakdown of the number of fatalities, and the resulting cost, for each state in the Midwest:
- Ohio: 380 fatalities ($2 billion)
- Illinois: 164 fatalities ($867 million)
- Michigan: 160 fatalities ($858 million)
- Wisconsin: 92 fatalities ($524 million)
- Indiana: 83 fatalities ($450 million)
- Minnesota: 54 fatalities ($292 million)
- Iowa: 32 fatalities ($168 million)
The report notes that 15 percent of construction workers struggle with substance abuse, which is twice the national average. Other research has shown that opioids account for 20 percent of prescription medication spending in the construction industry, and that 60 to 80 percent of all workers compensation claims in the Midwest involve the use of opioids.
According to report author Jill Manzo, Midwest researcher at MEPI, the arduous nature of the profession plays into the opioid epidemic.
“What makes construction so vulnerable to this epidemic is the physical nature of the work,” Manzo says. “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.”
The report outlines a number of ways in which these issues can be addressed, including limiting dosage, revising drug testing policies, promoting treatment within health insurance plans, and discussing responsible pain management best practices with employees.
“Untreated substance abuse can cost contractors thousands of dollars each year in health care, absenteeism and turnover costs, while preventing abuse or getting an employee into recovery can ultimately save thousands of dollars,” Manzo says. “Taking tangible steps to combat this crisis is a moral and economic imperative for both industry leaders and elected officials.”