In a new report, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health finds that construction workers made up nearly one quarter of workers in the state who died from opioid-related overdoses between 2011 and 2015. Workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry occupation (mostly fishing) had a similarly high rate of overdose deaths compared to the general population, while warehouse, transportation, maintenance, food service, and health care support workers also died from opioid overdoses at above-average rates.
The study, funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found a noteworthy gender gap in the occupational profiles of overdose victims. Most of the construction workers counted in the study were male, and men in the construction, agricultural, and material moving occupations experienced opioid-related deaths at a higher than average rate for male workers in Massachusetts. Among women, however, the highest rates were among healthcare support and food preparation/service workers.
A common thread among the occupations with high rates of overdose deaths is a greater propensity for workplace injuries in these industries, the report notes:
The rate of fatal opioid-related overdose was higher among workers employed in industries and occupations known to have high rates of work-related injuries and illnesses. This finding is consistent with previous research documenting common use of prescribed opioids for management of acute and chronic pain following work-related injury. The rate was also higher among workers in occupations with lower availability of paid sick leave and lower job security. More in-depth research is needed to characterize the potential contribution of these factors to opioid misuse and overdose.
Experts and advocates for occupational safety in Massachusetts tell the Boston Globe they’re not surprised by these findings: