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We Need to Talk about Opioid Addiction

Seventy percent of workplaces have been affected by the U.S. opioid crisis, which continues to grow

Seventy percent of workplaces have been affected by the opioid crisis, according to estimates from the National Safety Council. In other words, most people reading this column have experienced or are experiencing opioid addiction in their companies, whether they know it or not. No company—and to bring this issue even closer to home, no family—is immune to the ongoing and worsening opioid crisis in the United States. We need to be talking about it.  

This urgent call to action was highlighted during the 2024 Building Envelope Contractors Conference, held March 3-5 in Nashville and hosted by the National Glass Association. During the session “Straight Talk: Addiction Treatment & Recovery,” Cal Beyer, strategic partner with SAFE Project, and David Argus, operations director of the Contract Division for Karas & Karas Glass, presented some arresting and daunting statistics about the extent of the problem in construction. Consider the following.  

162 overdose deaths per 100,000 workers 

The construction and extraction industry faces the worst rate of overdose deaths, with 162 deaths per 100,000 workers per year, according to 2020 data (the most recent available) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, the industry with the second-highest overdose death rate per 100,000 workers is food service, with 118, and the average for all industries is 42.  

“It’s time for us to stop being afraid of this topic. To recognize that people are hurting. Addiction is usually the result of unresolved stress, anxiety and other stress in our lives,” says Beyer. 

19% of construction workers have SUD 

Nearly one in five construction workers, or 19%, has substance use disorder. This compares to 8.5% of adults in the total population, according to data from the National Survey on Drug Use conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.  

“This impacts quality, productivity, risk and safety,” says Beyer. “Most organizations have been impacted. I’ve worked with hundreds of construction companies nationwide, and they have all been impacted.”  

34.1% of construction workers have an MSD 

Many opioid addictions begin with prescriptions for painkillers following injuries or surgeries, particularly MSD, or musculoskeletal disorders. MSDs are pervasive in construction—in fact, more than one in three workers suffer from some form of MSD.  

“This is a gateway to opioids,” says Beyer. “The best addiction treatment, suicide prevention and overdose prevention strategy is to continue to focus on injury prevention.”

The first step in addressing opioid addiction in your workplace is acknowledging it and talking about it. “We need to stop being afraid of this topic,” says Beyer. “This impacts your workforce, your people, your families and your business performance.”  

There is much more to this story, and to the steps companies can take to create a safe space for workers to talk about their struggles and find success in recovery. The NGA and Glass Magazine will continue to focus on this topic. For now, talk to your people, talk to your family and let’s all start chipping away at the stigma of addiction.  


Katy Devlin

Katy Devlin

Katy Devlin is content director for the National Glass Association and editor in chief of Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at