Drugs Construction Construction

Opioid crisis hits Massachusetts construction, extraction workers hard: report

Commonwealth Bridge
Photo: Massachusetts Department of Transportation

Boston — Construction and extraction workers in Massachusetts are six times more likely to suffer an opioid-related overdose death than workers in all other occupations, according to a recent report from the state’s Department of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed data compiled from death certificates of 4,302 Massachusetts residents who died from opioid-related overdoses between 2011 and 2015 and for whom records listed an occupation. Findings showed that workers in construction and extraction had a fatality rate of 150.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. The rate for workers in all other occupations was 25.1.

A total of 1,096 construction and extraction workers died of opioid-related overdoses during the period studied.

Other findings:

  • The average overdose-related fatality rate for men (38.2 deaths per 100,000 workers) was more than three times the rate for women (11.6).
  • Farming, fishing and forestry workers (61 deaths) had an overdose-related fatality rate of 143.9 deaths per 100,000 workers.
  • Other occupations with overdose-related fatality rates notably higher than the rate for all workers were material moving (59.1 deaths per 100,000 workers); installation, maintenance and repair (54.0); transportation (42.6); production (42.1); food preparation and serving (39.5); building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (38.3); and health care support (31.8).

In an Aug. 8 press release, Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the findings are significant because they pinpoint industries and occupations “where strategies can be developed to intervene before injuries occur.”

Massachusetts Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel added, “Work-related injuries often serve as the initiation for opioid pain medication, which can subsequently lead to opioid misuse. 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.”

In May, Reps. Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Matt Cartwright (D-PA) introduced federal legislation (HR 5892) that would create a committee to advise the secretary of labor on ways the Department of Labor could help combat opioid misuse and addiction in the workforce. The bill passed the House in June, but the Senate had not yet voted on it at press time.

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