Medically Reviewed

Construction Workers Among the Most Susceptible to Opioid Abuse

2 min read · 4 sections

Construction Workers Suffer from Work-Related Injuries

Working in construction is very dangerous. Construction workers engage in many daily activities that expose them to serious hazards.1 The construction industry accounted for 965 of 5,147 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2017.2 Of all industries, construction also sees the most fatalities by falls, accounting for more than half of all fatal falls in the United States.3 Recent injury data showed that more than 24,000 construction workers across the United States suffered injuries on the job that required time away from work in 2016.4

Construction Workers Are Given Opioids at an Alarming Rate

This high rate of injuries, combined with everyday physical wear from the job, results in construction workings having to constantly deal with bouts of pain. Unfortunately, these individuals often resort to highly addictive opioid drugs for comfort, which are prescribed at alarming rates by doctors. According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation, 73% of construction workers injured in 2016 were prescribed a narcotic painkiller.5

A 2015 report on claim data from commercial insurance underwriter CNA found opioids accounted for more than 20% of total spending on prescription drugs in the construction industry, while the industry as a whole spent about 10% more on opioids than all other industries combined.6 The study also found that injured employees using opioids can increase the chance of injuries to themselves and others.

How Common is Opioid Abuse Among Construction Workers?

The construction industry has the second-highest rate of pain medication and opioid misuse of any industry in the United States. About 1.3% of construction workers report a pain medication and opioid use disorder, nearly twice the national average according to data from the 2012-2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.7 This rampant abuse of opioids is associated with increased rates of overdose within the construction industry.

Some statistics demonstrating the consequences of opioid abuse among construction workers include:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, construction workers have the highest mortality rates for drug overdose deaths and prescription opioid–related overdose deaths.8
  • Construction workers represented about 25% of all fatal opioid overdoses among Massachusetts workers from 2011 to 2015, according to a 2018 report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.9
  • In Massachusetts there was 1,096 opioid-related overdose deaths in construction (150.6 deaths per 100,000 workers) from 2011 to 2015.9
  • Construction workers accounted for 42% of opioid-related overdoses in the Boston suburbs from 2011 to 2015.9
  • Construction workers in Massachusetts are 6 times more likely to fatally overdose on opioids than other workers.9
  • Nearly 1,000 construction workers across 7 Midwestern states suffered fatal opioid-related overdoses in 2015, according to a 2018 report from the Midwest Economic Policy Institute.10
  • Construction workers in Ohio are 7 times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than workers in other professions with a rate of 270 deaths per 100,000 workers, according to a joint analysis by the Ohio Department of Health and the The Plain Dealer.11


As the construction industry continues to face the impact of opioid abuse among their workforce, employers should make it a priority to educate employees about responsible prescription opioid use and the high likelihood of addiction. Most within the construction industry are aware of this problem, and the appropriate changes are being implemented. In 2018, the North America’s Building Trade Council (NABTU), a labor federation of 14 North American unions in the building trade, established a task force to tackle opioid abuse. According to Chris Cain, NABTU’s director of safety and health, the group issued recommendations to “design out hazards that lead to pain on construction and overuse of opioids”.12

Under federal law, construction companies are required to institute workplace drug testing for their employees. Treatment options should be offered for individuals who test positive for drugs or alcohol. Once healthy and sober, these workers should be welcomed back to the job site where they can prove to be valuable assets for years to come.


  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2019). Construction Industry.
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2017.
  3. Socias-Morales, C.M., Chaumont Menéndez, C.K., & Marsh, S.M. (2018). Fatal work-related falls in the United States, 2003-2014. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 61(3), 204–215.
  4. Laborers’ International Union of North America. (2018). Number of Worker Deaths in Construction Continues to Rise.
  5. The Plain Dealer. (2017). Ohio construction workers seven times more likely to die of an opioid overdose in 2016.
  6. CNA Financial Corporation. (2015). 2015 Construction Risk Outlook, Prescription Opioid Abuse: Risk Factors and Solutions.
  7. National Safety Council. (2017). A Substance Use Cost Calculator for Employer.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Occupational Patterns in Unintentional and Undetermined Drug-Involved and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths-United States, 2007-2012.
  9. Massachusetts Department of Public Health. (2018). Opioid-related Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts by Industry and Occupation, 2011-2015.
  10. Midwest Economic Policy Institute. (2018). Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Among Midwest Construction Workers.
  11. The Plain Dealer (2017). Ohio construction workers seven times more likely to die of an opioid overdose in 2016.
  12. Engineering News-Record. (2018). Construction Industry Tackles the Opioid Crisis.
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