Pennsylvania, one of the hardest-hit states in the U.S. for opioid addiction, particularly in construction, is pushing back to curb the trend—with contractors joining state efforts announced this month to focus physicians’ and employees’ attention on overuse.
The state, which recorded more than 5,440 overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in July 2017, a 43.4% hike over the previous year, released on July 16 new opioid-prescribing guidelines under its workers’ compensation program that specify the smallest doses possible for the shortest periods for acute pain and other “alternatives” for chronic pain sufferers.
Critics say the guidelines are weaker than opioid formularies Gov. Tom Wolf (R) vetoed in June, but state officials said those covered too many non-opioid drugs.
Jon O’Brien, executive director of the Keystone Contractors Association, hopes better opioid knowledge will go a long way toward stemming that trend.
State legislators assisted, in issuing a statewide proclamation designating the last week of July as “Construction Opioids Awareness Week.” Resolution sponsor Rep. Jason Ortitay (R), who represents two rural counties, cited data from insurer CNA that showed more than 15% of industry workers have a substance abuse problem, compared with 9% in other sectors.
KCA, which represents more than 60 construction firms outside Pennsylvania’s two major urban areas, is deploying a variety of tools to increase opioid risk awareness among member employees. He says while KCA firms understand the crisis, few have in-house resources to tackle it on their own as “small contractors who are face-down on work.”
The group has distributed materials available from the National Safety Council, such as paycheck stickers that read, “Opioids: Warn Me,” as employee reminders to ask physicians about the addictive potential of certain medications.
As the collective-bargaining agent for statewide building trades, the group also has been working to incorporate drug-free clauses into contracts as they are renewed. O’Brien claims there is little pushback so far from unions, who also “recognize the severity of the problem.” He hopes to broaden KCA’s opioid awareness effort to include families.
Dave Miorelli, president of Hazelton, Pa., concrete contractor Joseph Miorelli & Co. and a KCA member, says “any positive education is a good thing.”