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Dangerous jobs face heightened opioid use

Boston Herald - 8/9/2018

Aug. 09--Construction workers are six times more likely to die from opioid-related overdoses associated with prescriptions taken to treat on-the-job injuries, according to a new state report -- findings that highlight how the workplace needs to ensure workers' safety, advocates say.

The report, released by the state Department of Public Health yesterday, found a link between dangerous jobs -- such as roofing, pipe laying, painting and carpentry -- and opiate addiction.

DPH looked at 4,302 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts from 2011 to 2015 by industry and occupation to understand whether work-related injuries might have contributed to opioid use disorders. It found that of 4,284 worker death certificates, 1,096 were found to be employed in construction. The opioid-related death rate for these workers was six times the average rate for all Massachusetts workers with 150.6 deaths per 100,000 workers as compared to the 25.1 average. The rate was also five times higher than the average among those in the fishing industry.

"We've definitely seen a problem with opioids in the industry," Bert Durand of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters told the Herald. "Part of it is the physical work and toll it takes on someone's body as they go about their career. Part of it is how opioids have been handled in the medical establishment. All these factors have conspired to do a lot of damage to people working in the construction industry."

"This sobering report confirms that hazardous jobs are not just dangerous because of the risk of fatal injury, but because they can also directly lead to tragic opioid addiction that can shatter families and end lives," said Jodi Sugerman-Brozan, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health.

Sugerman-Brozan wants action taken to prevent workplace injuries in these dangerous jobs before addiction can take hold.

MassCOSH argues the state should reinstate the Workplace Injury and Illness record-keeping rule that required employers to keep five years of workplace injury records, increase access to paid sick leave and empower unions.

"These are steps we can take right now to help end all this needless suffering and loss," Sugerman-Brozan said.

Durand also said the council has been working to educate union members on workplace safety and offer access to treatment and counseling. "There needs to be a lot of work done to make sure the people who build our cities are taken care of," Durand added.

The state Department of Public Health, meanwhile, is aiming to do more research to assess how connected work-related injuries are to opioid pain medication and addiction, and developing an outreach plan targeting high-risk worker groups.

"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 in a statement. "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."

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