By Dennis Thompson
Hard-hat jobs are tough and demanding, often entailing intense physical labor performed in dangerous situations.But a new study finds construction work also comes with another danger: An increased risk of drug abuse.
Construction and extraction workers use prescription opioids more often than all other professions combined — 3.4% vs. 2%, analysis of U.S. federal survey data shows.
These hard-hat workers also are most likely to use cocaine, with 1.8% reporting use compared to 0.8% in all other professions.
Construction workers also were the second most likely to use marijuana. Only folks in service-oriented jobs use marijuana more — 12.3% vs. 12.4%. All occupations outside construction and mining have combined have a combined average use of 7.5%.
The results track with previous studies that found construction workers have an overdose death rate six to seven times higher than the average, said lead researcher Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at the New York University College of Global Public Health in New York City.
“Quite frankly, our world would not exist without these folks,” she said. “The construction workers, the mining and extraction workers, they help make our world go around. We need to make sure they can stay employed and live the healthiest life they can.”
Ompad and her team based their findings on federal survey data gathered between 2005 and 2014. They compared construction and extraction workers — 5.6% of the 293,500 surveyed — against people in 13 other job categories.
Ompad cautioned that the findings don’t necessarily mean that workers are stoned on the job.
“It’s unclear in this data set whether people are using at work or are using at home,” she said.
The high-risk and physically demanding nature of construction and mining work is the most likely explanation for all this drug use, Ompad said.
“They do experience a quite a bit of pain, and not just from injuries,” Ompad said. “I think a lot of them are prescribed opioids, and when their doctors stop prescribing opioids and their pain is still there, they continue to use them anyway.”