New findings in Massachusetts indicate that workers in the building trades are far more likely to have a fatal overdose on opioids than those in other kinds of work. These high-injury occupations, primarily held by men, often come with a lack of health insurance, job security, and sick pay, leaving the workers in constant fear of losing their jobs if they are not able to fight off the pain or overcome injuries.

In a study founded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mass. Department of Public Health (LINK TO STUDY) found that, in 2011-2015, nearly a quarter of all overdose deaths occurred among construction workers, and that fishermen and farmers also had higher rates of overdose-related mortality. The cause? Injuries in the workplace, treated with doctor-prescribed opioid painkillers, followed by sustained use of the drugs in order to keep working through the pain, and, finally, addiction to the drugs. Among women, those work in food-preparation and health-care support have the highest rate of fatality.

The study found that doctors commonly prescribed opioid painkillers to injured workers. The study highlights the importance of taking steps to prevent injuries on the job, so workers will not require medication for working in pain. It is not clear what percentage of fatal overdoses are attributed to these sources versus illicit drugs that are used by workers while waiting for care or by workers who have become addicted.

As a clinical social worker, do you have clientele in the building trades? Have you been attentive to the possibility that they are using opioids and facing addiction? Are you helping the officials in your state or agency to become aware of the studies and programs in Massachusetts, which is the only state in which the rate of opioid-based overdoses is falling?


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