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Addiction and Long-term Care in the Construction Industry

Opioid use is uncommonly high in the construction industry, where workers face many physical hazards and are at an increased risk of getting injured. One study shows that construction workers are the most likely occupation to misuse opioids and cocaine. Compared to other industries in North America, construction workers are roughly six times more likely to become addicted to opioids.

Too many people in this industry are not getting the help that they need – either because they don’t know where to turn for help, or because they’re afraid of the consequences if they ask.

The Dangers of Managing Pain

Despite safety precautions, it is unavoidable that many construction workers will experience an injury on the job. The difficulty for them is that they have to keep performing the same manual labor every day, working through pain which often makes it worse. Frequently workers seek pain relief through prescription opiates.

“Any time you have an industry that’s hard on your body and doesn’t come with expansive benefits, people have to work through pain a lot,” says Lisa Blanchard our Vice President of Clinical Services at Spectrum Health Systems. “The only option is to continue to work. Opiates are a way to manage the pain, until it becomes unmanageable and turns into addiction.”

This is what we’re seeing too often in construction: workers trying to manage the pain of their injuries develop an addiction, and don’t seek treatment for fear of losing their job.

The Fear of Coming Forward

Job security is one of the top concerns keeping construction and industrial workers from asking for help from their colleagues or bosses. Jeffrey Born, a Spectrum client, was first prescribed opioids after a serious workplace injury 18 years ago. Back then, “there was no support when you were addicted,” he reflects. “People hid it as best they could, they didn’t want other people to know.”

What we’re seeing now is a community that is trying to come together and offer support for a disease that that so many of their fellow workers are suffering from. While not the case universally, there are a growing number of construction employers that are willing to work with employees as they seek treatment for their addiction, either by giving them small side jobs to keep their foot in the door, or assuring them that they’ll have a job waiting for them after going to rehab.

If people are worried about getting fired when they admit to struggling with addiction, they’re going to keep struggling in secret. That behavior only makes an addiction worse and can lead to overdose. In a field where opioid and alcohol misuse is so prevalent – both on- and off-site – reducing the stigma around addiction and creating a safe environment with open communication could help save lives.

Long-term Care

While we don’t encourage people to work through pain or mask it with medication, the reality is that some jobs are going to be harder on the body than others. When we treat people who are living and working with chronic pain, we take a holistic approach with an understanding of the work-related risks that they have to face every day.

“The clinicians have helped me have a better life all the way around,” says Born. He started medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) with us five years ago to treat his heroin addiction and continues to attend weekly one-on-one and group check-ins (over the phone now, due to COVID-19). He still experiences pain, but ongoing treatment helps him manage his physical and psychological triggers – a holistic approach that seeks to address his unique needs as a client.

“I deal with pain every day, there’s really no way around it,” he explained. “I have good and bad days. I think that you should just get the help that you need. You shouldn’t have to struggle when there’s help available. People like Spectrum will give you the help that you need.”

At the New England Recovery Center and Spectrum Health Systems, we’ll help you tackle the root of your addiction and work with you on an individualized treatment plan for sustaining long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use, call us today at 1-877-MyRehab and start your recovery today.

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