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Construction workers are more likely to use opioids and cocaine than workers in any other profession, according to a study released Wednesday.
Workers in the construction, mining and extraction sector were most likely to misuse prescription opioids and use cocaine, and they were the second-highest users of marijuana, concluded researchers from the Center for Drug Use and HIV/HCV Research at New York University’s College of Global Public Health.
Using data from 2005 to 2014 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the researchers analyzed responses from nearly 300,000 participants in 14 occupations who were asked about their employers’ workplace drug policies and whether they had used marijuana, cocaine or opioids for nonmedical reasons or not as prescribed in the prior month.
Injuries from repetitive, strenuous work can lead to self-treatment with pain medication such as opioids and marijuana, and this increased risk for drug use can make them more vulnerable to work-related injuries or overdose deaths, the researchers said in a statement.
Compared with other professions, 3.4% of construction workers said they had misused prescription opioids vs. 2% of workers in all other professions, and 1.8% of construction workers admitted to using cocaine vs. 0.8% of workers in other industries. Regarding marijuana use, 12.3% of construction workers said they had used marijuana in the prior month, second only to service industry workers, where 12.4% admitted to using marijuana; 7.5% of workers in all other industries combined self-reported marijuana use.
The researchers also found that having unstable work correlated with a greater likelihood to use drugs; that missing one or two days in the past month due to not wanting to go to work was associated with increased odds for marijuana, cocaine and prescription opioid misuse; and that missing three to five days of work in the past month due to illness or injury was associated with double the odds of opioid misuse.
Workplace drug policies did have a more protective effect against marijuana use than the use of cocaine or misuse of prescription opioids, according to the study, and workplace alcohol testing, drug testing during the hiring process, random drug testing, and working for an employer that fires employees with a positive drug test were all associated with lower odds of marijuana use.
Drug testing and substance abuse policies may play a role in protecting workers in high-risk settings like construction, the researchers said in the statement, but harm reduction and prevention programming is needed to prevent drug-related risks and mortality among construction workers.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is increasingly concerned about suicides and opioid-related deaths in the construction sector, according to agency officials.