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Construction Industry Hit Hard by Opioid Epidemic

From the Wall Street Journal

Opioid Use Hits Construction Industry as Overdoses Soar

by Vipal Monga

Mark St. Cyr, a construction superintendent in the Pittsburgh area, often sees telltale signs of opioid use among workers at sites where he works.

“If I’m supervising 10 guys, two or three will be using almost every day,” said Mr. St. Cyr, who is 57 years old and in recovery from his own opioid addiction. He’s quick to notice users’ pinprick eyes and their jaundiced skin.

Opioid use, and deaths from overdoses, has jumped across North America during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in December said the U.S. will record 81,230 fatal drug deaths in the 12 months through May, a record, up from 68,829 deaths during the same period ending in May 2019. In Canada, opioid overdose deaths hit 1,628 in the second quarter, from 1,029 in the first, as the pandemic took hold.

The construction industry, already facing a shortage of manual labor, has been hit particularly hard. Bricklayers, carpenters and laborers carry heavy loads and perform the same tasks day in and day out, leading to injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, strained shoulders and bad backs. Seeking relief, workers can get hooked on strong prescription drugs such as fentanyl, oxycodone and morphine, and street drugs like heroin.

“There are higher levels of pain in construction than in other industries,” said Vicky Waldron, executive director for the Vancouver-based Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan, a nonprofit set up by labor unions and construction companies for drug treatment.

In a 2019 report by Barclays Research that examined data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the bank’s analysts said that opioid use in the U.S. has made workers in the industry less productive and has increased costs to the industry. While the precise number of overdose deaths in the North American construction industry is hard to determine, the workers are roughly 6 times more likely than workers in other manufacturing industrial and services industries to become addicted to opioids, according to the report.

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Credit: Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

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