07 Aug Construction Workers Have Highest Rate of Opioid-Related Deaths
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Devan Hawkins ScD
Instructor of Public Health
School of Arts and Sciences
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: As has been well established, mortality due to opioids has been increasing rapidly in recent years. We were interested in understanding whether mortality rates may be high among workers in certain industries and occupations for two primary reasons.
First, if we were to find that mortality rates differed according to industry and/or occupation it might indicate that some aspect of these industries and occupations put workers at elevated risk for opioid-related overdose death.
Second, interventions could be created to target these workers and hopefully prevent more deaths.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: One of the main findings from this study was that construction workers had opioid-related overdose mortality rates over seven times higher than that among other workers. Overall, construction workers accounted for close to a quarter of all opioid-related overdose deaths among workers in Massachusetts from 2011 to 2015. Additionally, fishing workers had an opioid-related overdose mortality rate over five times higher than that among other workers.
When we grouped occupations according to their injury and illness rate, we found that occupations that had higher occupational injury and illness rates also had higher rates of opioid-related overdose deaths. This is consistent with a growing body of literature that suggests that occupational injuries may be a risk factor for opioid use and overdose. Conceptually, we think that workers may be injured at work and require opioids to return to work.
We also found that occupations with lower availability of paid sick leave and more job insecurity had higher opioid-related overdose mortality rates. We believe that it may be the case that workers who cannot take off time to recover from injuries using paid sick leave and those that are worried about losing their job may be more likely to use opioids to return to work sooner.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: The opioid epidemic is affecting everyone. Although certain occupations and industries had higher numbers of opioid-related overdose deaths and higher rates of death, there was no occupation that had 0 deaths.
Additionally, the workplace is an environment that many of us spend a large percentage of our waking hours. It can be utilized to protect health, but in some instances work can harm people’s health. Efforts should be made to find way that the workplace can be used to prevent opioid use disorders and opioid-related overdose deaths.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Further research should examine the factors this study longitudinally to determine to what extent occupational injuries and other workplace factors are risk factors for opioid-related overdose deaths.
There is also a need for more studies examining the impact that workplace interventions may play on reducing opioid-related overdose deaths. Some potential interventions briefly discussed in the paper include addressing workplace hazards that can result in injuries, educating clinicians about best practices for treating injured workers, and strategies to prevent overdose at the workplace.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: I just want to acknowledge the incredible work done by the article’s co-authors: Cora Roelofs, James Laing, and Letitia Davis ScD and the support of the MA Department of Public Health where the work was performed within the Occupational Health Surveillance Program and the support of Center’s for Disease Control who funded the study.
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