This is one of the most dangerous professions in America – and not only because of heavy machinery, steadfast labor and high sky conditions.
That's because construction workers are most likely to get involved in the deadly opioid epidemic, according to a NYU report published Wednesday.
The survey, which collected responses from more than 290,000 workers in 13 different professions, found that 3.4% of construction workers in the survey abused painkillers. The average rate of abuse in other careers was about 2%.
For recovering drug addict Elvin "Elbo" Kriegsman, a combined artist for two decades working in Manhattan, the results are not surprising. His colleagues are constantly complaining of pain, especially back pain. Some are addicted to painkillers, which they turn to for relief.
Kriegsman can recognize the signs of addiction ̵
He says he has been sober for six years – and prescription drug addicts have become the elephant in his profession room. "People want to keep him undercover because they fear they won't lose their jobs," he said, instead of being offered a chance to get help.
Research from the National Institutes of Health confirms that lower back pain is the most common workplace injury and the cause of missing shifts. Opioids are one of the most common treatments for symptoms, according to the Catalyst Blog of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The lead author of a new study on the workplace, Professor Daniel Ompad of NYU's College of Global Public Health, agrees that pain and painkillers may be part of the cause of much addiction in the construction industry, although she noted that its researchers do not ask why or when people use drugs.
"I suppose people are still experiencing pain and are still trying to treat this pain, or in the course of treating that pain they may become opioid dependent," says Oppad.
Workers are significantly 77% higher than the national average for all types of workers, according to the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, and it is also found that 15% of construction site workers have a history of substance abuse.
But beyond the potential for injury, there is the issue of the workplace culture, and Krigsman says there are "many people" like him at work: under-educated, criminal and history of drug use – because, for unlike many other professions, his employers do not require an educational degree or a degree of purity.
However, they often implement a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to illicit drug use at work. The rule can be so unforgivable that Kriegsman claims he avoids telling his executives about personal injuries at work – for fear of being drugged.
"I didn't say anything… because I was scared of the [they would make me] urine test," he explained, suggesting that the decline may give rise to suspicion of high labor.
This approach also means that there is little support for employees
Ompad also claims that this relentless policy harms workers. She believes that zero tolerance "does not seem to have much to do with the lower prevalence of … opioids. without a prescription, "and offers employers a better understanding of addiction and treatment – and have a little more sympathy for their workers.
"Drug testing can lead to a really good worker being fired," she said. "We can probably come up with better ways to support companies and their workers . "