Background: Construction workers have high rates of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, which lead to frequent opioid use and opioid use disorder (OUD). This paper quantified the incidence of opioid use and OUD among construction workers with and without musculoskeletal disorders. Methods: We conducted a retrospective study using union health claims from January 2015 to June 2018 from 19,909 construction workers. Claims for diagnoses of chronic musculoskeletal disorders, acute musculoskeletal injuries, musculoskeletal surgery, and other conditions were linked to new opioid prescriptions. We examined the effects of high doses (≥50 morphine mg equivalents per day), large supply (more than 7 days per fill), long-term opioid use (60 or more days supplied within a calendar quarter), and musculoskeletal disorders, on the odds of a future OUD. Results: There were high rates (42.8% per year) of chronic musculoskeletal disorders among workers, of whom 24.1% received new opioid prescriptions and 6.3% received long-term opioid prescriptions per year. Workers receiving opioids for chronic musculoskeletal disorders had the highest odds of future OUD: 4.71 (95% confidence interval 3.09–7.37); workers prescribed long-term opioids in any calendar quarter had a nearly 10-fold odds of developing an OUD. Conclusions: Among construction workers, opioids initiated for musculoskeletal pain were strongly associated with incident long-term opioid use and OUD. Musculoskeletal pain from physically demanding work is likely one driver of the opioid epidemic in occupations like construction. Prevention of work injuries and alternative pain management are needed for workers at risk for musculoskeletal injuries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-57
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • blue collar worker
  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • opioid prescriptions
  • pain treatment


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