Construction and extraction workers accounted for more than 24 percent of all opioid-related deaths among Massachusetts’ working population from 2011 to 2015, accounting for 1,096 deaths out of a total of 4,302 opioid-related deaths. The opioid-related death rate for all those employed in the construction and extraction occupations was six times the average rate, according to a recently released report titled “Opioid-related Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts by Industry and Occupation, 2011-2015” from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

The rate of opioid-related overdose deaths among construction workers was 124.9 per 100,000 workers, significantly higher than the average for all workers (25.1 per 100,000). Among the construction industry, construction laborers accounted for 34.2 percent of the overdose deaths. Structural iron and steel workers accounted for 0.9 percent of the total deaths.

Male workers in the construction industry have been especially impacted by the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts. The overdose death rate among male workers in the state was 38.3 per 100,000 workers. When looking specifically at construction and extraction occupations, the death rate among males was 152.3 per 100,000 workers. Of total opioid-related overdose deaths in the construction and extraction occupations, 98.9 percent were men. The rate for females in the occupations was 47.8 per 100,000 workers, compared to the rate for females in all occupations at 11.6 per 100,000 workers.

The report also showed that workers in industries with higher job insecurity and lower paid sick leave were more likely to die of an opioid-related overdose.

“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,” reads the report findings.

DPH concluded that there is a need for educational and policy intervention to prevent opioid-related overdose deaths. The department says interventions should focus on the prevention of injuries for which opioids are prescribed and appropriate pain management following injury.

According to the report, “This finding is consistent with a report from Utah, which found that 57 percent of those who had an opioid-related overdose death had suffered a work-related injury at some point in their life, and that 13 percent had experienced a work-related injury within three years of their death.”

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