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Opioid-related worker deaths skyrocket in Massachusetts: report

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Boston — The rate of opioid-related overdose deaths among Massachusetts workers in 2016 and 2017 rose 83.7% over the previous five-year period, with construction and agricultural occupations experiencing dramatic jumps, according to a recent report https://www.mass.gov/doc/opioid-related-overdose-deaths-by-industry-and-occupation-2016-2017-0/download?utm_source=www.mass.gov&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Opioids+at+Work+2016-2017 from the state’s Department of Public Health.

Researchers examined data from the death certificates of 3,354 Massachusetts residents (2,651 men and 703 women) who died from opioid-related overdoses between 2016 and 2017 and for whom records listed an occupation or industry classification.

Findings show that the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths for all occupations was 46.1 per 100,000 workers – up from 25.1 between 2011 and 2015, a period for which the department released a study https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/17421-opioid-crisis-hits-massachusetts-construction-extraction-workers-hard-report in August 2018.

Although workers in eight industry sectors experienced fatality rates higher than the rate for all workers, those employed in construction (228.9 deaths per 100,000 workers) as well as agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (220.8) had a markedly greater risk. Overall, the rate for agricultural workers increased 105.4% from the 2011-2015 study period, while the rate for construction workers rose 83.3%.

The other occupations with opioid-related overdose fatality rates higher than the rate for all workers:

  • Administrative and support and waste management services (82 deaths per 100,000 workers)
  • Transportation and warehousing (75.3)
  • Accommodation and food services (74.5)
  • Other services, except public administration (66.8)
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation (52.9)
  • Utilities (47.9)

“These findings demonstrate the continued need for education and interventions that are aimed at high-risk worker populations in order to prevent opioid-related overdose morbidity and mortality,” the researchers said. “The workplace provides a venue for the primary prevention of injuries, as well as a place where workers can receive education on safer alternatives for the treatment of pain and evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorders.”

In a press release from the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, the worker advocacy group calls on policymakers to allocate funds to “workplace prevention and recovery strategies” as well as programs intended to aid workers with opioid misuse disorders.

“It is clear that work can be both a pathway to opioid use and addiction as well as a pathway to recovery,” MassCOSH Executive Director Jodi Sugerman-Brozan said. “We must do all we can to prevent the kinds of injury, stress and pain that lead workers to opioid use and help them get the recovery services they need when it does happen.”

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