Construction ostracizes marijuana while building solutions to retain opioid abusers

May 15 '19 | By Ray
Construction ostracizes marijuana while building solutions to retain opioid abusers

As soaring numbers of construction workers battle opioid addiction, building trades leaders across the U.S. are launching solutions intended to show contractors and union members how they can help those who are hooked on opioids.

“We don’t push someone away who gets cancer or diabetes; we shouldn’t get rid of someone who suffers addiction,” said Thomas Gunning III, director of labor relations for the Building Trades Employers’ Association.

“It’s a disease of the mind, and we want to help them,” he said, according to the Boston Globe.

Yet, for decades when it came to marijuana usage, pushing away and completely ostracizing workers is exactly what contractors and union have done, and continue to do. So why are contractors forming coalitions to battle opioid addiction, and trying their hardest to retain those workers that are addicted.

But, some are arguing that this concerted effort of retaining and offering resources to opioid addicts is because statistically this type of drug abuse mostly affects white/Caucasians construction workers.

In recent years, many states in the U.S. have loosened up their regulation and restriction laws related to cannabis, or marijuana, with 33 states and Washington, D.C., currently allowing it for medical reasons. Ten of those states and D.C. allow adult recreational use.

Although, for the majority of major U.S. contractors and labor unions, this new status of marijuana, which used to be an illegal substance, has not persuaded them to loosen their restrictive hiring practices, and drug testing for the substances THC & CBD.

In most cases, to align themselves with the wishes of their clients, many large construction companies have decided that a positive drug test is a reason not to hire or, under some conditions like an accident, a reason to terminate employment. Even where it’s legal.

This type of enforcement of anti-drug policy has historically punished and prevented many black construction workers from entering the industry, and building lasting careers.

However, as far as opioid abuse is concerned, which the federal government has described as a “crisis”, and in 2017 accounted for more than 47,000 deaths, contractors from across America are organizing in an effort to break down, what they describe as a “stigma” surrounding opioid abuse.

Among other goals, contractors and trade associations are even going as far as to call for ‘Narcan’ to be available at all job sites to help prevent opioid overdose deaths.

According to the Boston Globe,  Kevin Gill, president of McCusker-Gill Inc., a sheet-metal contractor that employs 200 workers, said Narcan will be provided at his company’s fabrication shop.

Gill explained to the Globe, “It’s a very tough trade. Workers may have been given a painkiller to offset an injury, and before they know it, they have a full-blown addiction,”

“I want them to be comfortable to come to us to share their problem and work with us to hopefully come up with a solution,” Gill went on to explain.

Studies show that opioid abuse costs construction companies billions every year, in missed workdays, healthcare expenses, job turnover and the costs of recruiting and retraining new employees.

Medical experts note that marijuana is significantly less addictive and it doesn’t lead to overdoses. A recent study revealed that 93 percent of respondents found marijuana to be a more effective pain treatment that produced fewer side effects than opioids, and is a less costly treatment than opioids.

Given the nature of federal law versus state law, it’s hard to tell if construction employees will ever be allowed to use prescribed medical marijuana instead of opioids.

Moreover, construction companies under federal contracts are responsible to adhere to restrict regulation concerning marijuana testing. For example, if you employ individuals who use a commercial driver’s license you have to follow the drug testing rules from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Although many federal cases have resulted in conflicting outcomes, such as in the case of Noffsinger v. SSC Niantic Operating Co. LLC, 273 F. Supp. 3d 326 (D. Conn. 2017), the federal trial court found that the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) does not preempt Connecticut’s Palliative Use of Marijuana Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating based on an employee’s medical marijuana use. The construction industry is still focused on ostracizing cannabis users, in favor of helping and retaining opioid abusers.


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