Report Finds Link Between Risk of Work-Related Injury and Opioid Overdose Deaths

The report, which analyzed the rate of fatal opioid overdoses by industry and occupation, found that workers in occupations with high rates of work-related injuries had higher rates of fatal opioid overdoses.

Construction workers died from opioid overdoses at six times the average rate for all Massachusetts workers between 2011 and 2015, according to a recent report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH). The report, which analyzed the rate of fatal opioid overdoses by industry and occupation, found that workers in occupations with high rates of work-related injuries had higher rates of fatal opioid overdoses.

 The report, “Opioid-related Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts by Industry and Occupation, 2011-2015,” was created by the DPH’s Occupational Health Surveillance Program in collaboration with the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, Injury Surveillance Program, and Office of Special Analytic Projects, and was funded by the CDC. Based on available death certificate data, DPH analyzed 4,302 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts by occupation and industry to understand whether and how work and injuries related to work may have contributed to opioid use disorders.

The report found that workers in occupations with higher rates of work-related injuries had higher rates of opioid overdose deaths. Workers in occupations with lower rates of paid sick leave and less job security also had higher rates of opioid overdoses.

Workers in construction, quarrying, and mining accounted for more than 24 percent of all opioid-related deaths among the working population, with a death rate of 150.6 deaths per 100,000 workers and a 1,096 opioid-related deaths between 2011 and 2015. In addition, the rate of opioid-related deaths in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupations was more than five times the average rate for Massachusetts workers, despite the small number of workers in these fields.

“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.”

The DPH has taken steps to address these and other findings in the report, including additional research on the extent to which work-related injuries serve as an initiation for opioid pain medication that can lead to misuse, working on an educational outreach plan to target high-risk groups, and conducting outreach on the development of intervention strategies.

The report can be read in full here.

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