The Opioid Crisis And Blue-Collar Industries

We’ve written before about how drug use is shrinking the American workforce. Now there’s a new wrinkle to the problem of substance abuse in the workplace: the opioid crisis.


The Scale Of The Opioid Epidemic

In 2016, more than 64,000 people died from overdoses of opioids. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. For this and other reasons, President Trump declared the country’s opioid crisis a “public health emergency” in October.

Opioid abuse prevents candidates from getting jobs, and hampers the productivity of those who are already employedOpioid abuse, like all substance abuse, drags down the economy. The problem isn’t only that opioid abuse is keeping some workers from getting jobs. It’s also that two-thirds of people who report misusing pain-relief medication are already employed.

57% of employers say they perform drug tests. But 40% of those don’t screen for synthetic opioids like oxycodone, which is among the most widely abused narcotics.

Castlight Health, a benefits platform, estimates that opioid abusers cost employers nearly twice as much in healthcare expenses as their non-using counterparts. This adds up to an extra $8,600 a year.


The Opioid Crisis In Blue-Collar Industries

In an environment where workers do jobs like operating vehicles or machinery, the consequences of opioid abuse can be deadly.

The opioid crisis affects the construction industry especially hard due to the difficult physical nature of the workKevin Hall of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said last May that he was concerned by growth in violations by truck drivers, and fleets that failed to drug test driver applicants.

The manufacturing industry is also feeling the effects of the crisis.

President of the Regional Manufacturing Institute of Maryland Mike Galiazzo says some manufacturers, “wish we didn’t have to test for drugs, because they lose money when they can’t fill those positions.’’


Construction Hit Hardest Of All

Meanwhile, the construction industry has been hit harder than other sectors of the economy.

A calculator created in part by the National Safety Council estimates that a construction firm in Illinois of 150 employees could expect to face $57,387 in lost time, turnover, and healthcare expenses from substance abuse.

And in 2016, Ohio construction workers were seven times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than workers in other professions.

Developers and construction company owners speaking on the condition of anonymity told Bisnow that opioid abuse in the industry has made finding reliable labor nearly impossible.

“There are quite a few people in this world trying to turn a blind eye,” said John Fish, CEO of construction firm Suffolk. “If it doesn’t affect you, it’s not the most popular thing to talk about.”


What Can Employers Do?

Approach a worker you suspect of abusing opioids in a non-confrontational manner

What should you do if you’re an employer who suspects a worker of abusing opioids? Industry professionals recommend approaching the employee in a cordial, non-confrontational manner to offer assistance.

They also recommend that business owners reconsider zero-tolerance policies. Instead, they should offer alternatives to termination such as mandatory counseling. This makes workers more likely to disclose their substance abuse rather than hide it, which potentially puts their coworkers at risk.


Sources: Forbes, MHL News, Bloomberg,






“Helping our clients get jobs done since 1998.”