On May 8, the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council hosted an educational summit to discuss the nation’s opioid crisis.
Regional building trades leaders and representatives from Local Unions and District Councils from around Ohio came to the Hollywood Casino in Columbus to hear multiple speakers address why and how Ohioans, including construction workers, are falling victim to opioid addiction.
“Ohio is ground-zero for this crisis,” said Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council Secretary-Treasurer Mike Knisley. “We have great testing within the trades for drugs to be ahead of the curve. This summit is more than getting our guys out to the jobsite drug-free, which we do a great job of. This is bigger; to help the community.”
For older construction workers or one who has suffered a serious injury, opioids represent an opportunity to work pain-free. The issue is these power, but legal narcotics can be deadly.
“Construction workers give up a part of their body every day on the jobsite,” said Mark Douglas OSBCTC President. “In our industry, like a lot of industries, it is pay to play. You have to show up every day to get paid. Some of our members have to figure out a way to get through the workday, managing pain. Their job puts them in a position they do not want to be in. Take this information and give it back to your members to help them make an informed decision.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017 there were 4,293 opioid deaths in Ohio, which equates to 39.2 deaths per 100,000 people.
Amy Bush Stevens, the vice president of Prevention and Public Health Policy for the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, said Ohio trails only West Virginia in opioid deaths. The worst year for opioid deaths in Ohio was 2017.
Based on data from 2015, there was an estimated 179 deaths per 100,000 in Ohio’s construction industry, compared to the state’s total population death rate of 24.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
Throughout the summit, speakers, which included representatives from Aetna, doctors, law enforcement and others, made it clear opioid addiction can happen to people of any age, in any occupation, from any economic situation and any walk of life.
Michael Betz, Assistant Professor of the Department of Human Sciences at The Ohio State University, presented data showing how construction workers fall into a number of high-risk opioid- user categories.
According to Betz, the epidemic most disproportionately effects people who are white males with a high school diploma, GED or lower level of completed education. Unfortunately, many building trades members in Ohio fall into at least one of these risk categories.
Dr. Ali Mchaourab, Chief of Pain Medicine Service at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veteran Affairs Medical Center discussed how doctors overprescribe narcotic painkillers and are aware they are doing so. He stated besides doctors blatantly over prescribing painkillers, other factors that have led to the crisis including the pharmaceutical lobby, insurance companies and an entitlement culture, where patients think any type of pain is bad and everyone should be pain-free all the time.
Dr. Mchaourab also explained the results of a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which concluded that for people with moderate to severe chronic back pain or hip or knee osteoarthritis pain, opioid treatment was not superior compared to non-opioid treatment.
A representative from CVSHealth discussed the need for people to properly dispose of their unused painkillers, including how to find a medicine take-back locations, visit. He also offered to provide free talks to unions and JATCs about opioid use.
In his closing remarks, Knisley urged those in attendance to help lobby their elected officials to work to address this issue.
“This is a community issue and we are part of the community,” he said.
Knisley also urged building “trades members who need help with an opioid addiction to speak with their union leaders, who can direct them to an Employee Assistance Plan or another form of help.