- Of all professions polled in a recent survey, workers in the construction industry are the most likely to use cocaine and misuse prescription opioids, according to a study out of New York University. They're also the second most likely to use marijuana, behind those with service jobs, it concluded.
Researchers posited that workers in the construction industry have a higher instance of work-related injuries, which may lead to treatment or self-treatment with medications for pain like opioids or marijuana. That use could lead to further on-the-job accidents, injuries or fatalities. The researchers also noted that unstable work was linked to being more likely to use drugs.
Drug testing and other workplace substance use policies may play a role in protecting workers, said Danielle Ompad, an NYU associate professor and the study's lead author. "However, not all marijuana and opioid use is problematic and drug testing cannot distinguish recreational use from medical use. Thus, strict workplace drug policies also have the potential to harm companies and reduce employment opportunities for workers," she said. "[O]ur findings suggest that prevention and harm reduction programming is needed to prevent drug-related risks and mortality among this population."
As more state and local governments legalize marijuana for various uses, employers must find a way to balance a desire to broaden talent pools with the need to maintain a safe workplace.
For those in the construction industry, that calculation may lean toward the latter. The National Safety Council recently took the position that no amount of marijuana is appropriate for employees who work in safety-sensitive positions.
But with marijuana tests that can't differentiate between old and recent use and the fact that many employees use opioids legally, employers are struggling to gauge the prevalence of drug abuse in their organizations. And even when a problem is known, few employers feel confident in their ability to provide assistance for addiction.
As Ompad noted, employers may need to up their offerings, especially around prevention. Among other things, experts suggest that employers make sure insurance carriers have protocols for monitoring opioid prescriptions and providing statistics; get employee assistance programs’ support; and educate employees about opioid addiction and where to go for help.