Worker Opioid-Related Overdose Deaths Spike

November 15, 2021

A recent Massachusetts Department of Public Health report on worker opioid-related overdose deaths shows MassCOSH’s efforts to educate and provide services to at-risk worker is more badly needed than ever.  

The report, titled Opioid-related Overdose Deaths in Massachusetts by Industry and Occupation, 2016-2017, is an update to a report on opioid-related overdose deaths by industry and occupation covering the years 2011-2015 and shows that the average annual rate of deaths among workers nearly doubled over the period studied. The Construction industry saw a dramatic 83% increase in deaths, followed by deaths in the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, and Hunting industry, which more than doubled. Hispanic workers also found themselves hard hit by increased overdose deaths. In 2011, the rate among Hispanic workers was about half the rate of white, non-Hispanic workers (the race/ethnicity with the highest rate of ORODs in the state), but, beginning in 2012, the Hispanic rate increased sharply each year as to be on par with the white, non-Hispanic rate by 2016.  

The disturbing data regarding loss of workers only strengthens the correlation between workplace pain and injury and opioid misuse and overdose that was demonstrated by the initial study of 2011-2015 data. It also shows an unquestionable need for educational and preventive services focused on the workplace that have been proven to help workers who have been hurt on the job understand the risks of taking opioids to relieve pain. The data also points to the need to destigmatize recovery services for workers who have found themselves reliant on opioid medicines after being prescribed them after a workplace injury.  

With Massachusetts soon expected to receive an estimated $90 million from a resolution of a lawsuit against the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, a major opioid manufacturer and distributor, MassCOSH is demanding the funds to be directed to opioid workplace prevention strategies, such as our Opioid Peer Training Pilot Project.    

Working with three union partners, Teamsters Local 25, Iron Workers Local 7, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association, MassCOSH supported six union trainers to develop pilot curricula tailored to their members, with 285 workers trained in total. Union leaders and project trainers expressed that the pilot exceeded expectations, generating many positive outcomes, including union members entering treatment and new support programs at worksites and union halls, undoubtedly saving lives.