When you work long days on your feet, with your hands, putting your back into it, as it were, chances are you’ll come home with more than a paycheck. You’ll also likely pick up some aches and pains.
As a worker in the construction industry, if you’ve gone to a doctor in the past 20 years — especially before the last 10 years — more often than other industries, you were written a prescription for a painkiller, said Kevin Gregerson, program administrator for the Union Construction Workers’ Compensation Program in Bloomington.
“What makes construction workers so vulnerable to opiate addiction is how dangerous and strenuous the job is, said Jill Manzo of the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, a research institution that evaluates working and fiscal conditions, industries, labor standards, and public policy in the region.
“In the construction industry, there’s a lot of chronic wear and tear on the body,” Manzo said. “Often, doctors will prescribe opioid drugs rather than physical therapy for their patients.”
An estimated 15 percent of construction workers have a substance abuse disorder, compared to the national average of 8.6 percent. A big reason, according the MEPI, is the injury rate for construction workers is 77 percent higher than the national average for other occupations. That’s a lot of pain that needs constant management.
It is a problem the unions have recognized since at least 2000, Gregerson said. It was then that unions and other labor organizations began investigating the plethora of opioid prescriptions being written to their members. This, he said, came on the heels of a 1995 report from Liberty Mutual Insurance noting the high number of opioid prescriptions written for workers compensation claims.
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The over-prescription of opioids has become a crisis. While the rest of the world is waking up to that fact today, with everyone from President Trump to Gov. Mark Dayton looking for action to help curb the crisis, the construction industry has been taking steps to curb opioid addiction since 2009.