Report: Opioids cost Midwest construction industry billions

Feb 20, 2018
Construction workers on the job in Hamilton. Those in labor jobs, particularly construction, are more likely to die of opioid overdoses than any other profession in Ohio. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Opioids — including heroin and fentanyl — killed nearly 1,000 construction workers in the Midwest 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.

The report confirms a trend identified by Dayton Daily News data analysis in December that showed all types of laborers — particularly those in construction — are more likely to die from opioid overdoses than Ohioans in other professions.

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The data analyzed by this newspaper was collected by the Cleveland Plain Dealer and included information on the professions of those who died of opioid overdoses from 2010 to 2016.

“What makes construction so vulnerable to this epidemic is the physical nature of the work,” said Jill Manzo, author of the new Midwest Economic Policy Institute report. “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.”

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The report notes that according to the National Safety Council ’s 2017 Survey on Drug Use and Substance Abuse, 15 percent of construction workers struggle with substance abuse—nearly twice the national average.

And across the Midwest 60 to 80 percent of all workers compensation claims have involved opioids.

The industry cost estimate of $5 billion includes lost production, lost family income, and other costs every year for construction workers and their families.

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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 health care, 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.”