A recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) discovered that construction workers were six times more likely to die from an opioid overdose than an average worker in Massachusetts.
The DPH analyzed the death certificate data from 4,302 people who died from opioid-related causes between 2011 and 2015 and categorized each one by occupation and industry in order to better understand whether injuries suffered on the job could be a contributing factor to opioid dependency. In their investigation, researchers noted that workers in industries known to have a high rate of job-related injuries, as well as workers in industries with higher job insecurity and lower rates of paid sick leave suffered from a greater number of overdose deaths.
The study found that people working in mining, quarrying, and construction fields made up nearly one out of every four opioid-related deaths during that time. According to the researchers, this group had 1,096 opioid-related deaths over that five-year stretch, and had a death rate of 150.6 per 100,000 workers. The average death rate was just 25 per 100,000 workers.
“Work-related injuries often serve as the initiation for opioid pain medication, which can subsequently lead to opioid misuse," said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH. “Ensuring that jobs are safe, that the risk of injury is low and that workers have the time for rehabilitation and are not self-medicating to keep working are all key to decreasing opioid overdose deaths among workers.”
People earning less than $30,000 per year were affected most of all, at least partially because of their lack of access to healthcare. These workers often lacked job security and worked without any paid sick leave, so many turned to prescription pills to continue working after suffering even a minor but painful injury. Because construction and extraction work is so physically demanding, many of these workers never managed to completely recover from their injuries, often exacerbating the damage and extending the amount of time they felt the need to rely on opioids to stay working.
“We have many members who state how common it is to be given pills after an injury, then find themselves unable to stop due to stress, pain, and other issues,” Jeff Newton of MassCOSH said in an interview with The Nation. “…we believe virtually all injuries on the job can be prevented. We think we should aim for the difficult yet worthy goal that would nip this problem at the bud.”
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