A serious and deadly problem is facing construction workers and commercial fishermen in Massachusetts.
It's a hidden job hazard and the numbers are startling. A Massachusetts Department of Public Health study found workers in those jobs are dying of opioid overdoses five and six times more often than everyone else.
New Bedford resident Tyler Miranda makes his living as a commercial fisherman. Statistically, it is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.
"The job hurts, there is nothing you can do about that," said Miranda.
Miranda said he is a recovering addict and is now two years sober. According to a DPH study, commercial fishermen are five times more likely to die of opioid overdoses than any other profession.
The rate is even higher for construction workers.
"Not surprising because that's been happening for years," said Francisco Suarez. Construction workers like Suarez are six times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than other workers in Massachusetts.
A Massachusetts Department of Public Health study, the first of its kind in the United States, broke down overdose deaths by industry. They looked at death reports and occupations between 2011 and 2015 and found that of the 43-hundred people who died of opioid overdoses, more than one-thousand worked in construction.
"We found that in occupations and jobs where there's a high report of injuries, that's one area where we saw more opioid deaths, potentially as more people treating their pain with opioids," said Massachusetts DPH Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel.
Dr. Bharel said a potential risk factor is limited paid sick time.
"You could say there was less time to heal so they were coming back to work sooner and individuals who have less job security were also at higher risk," she said.
The construction industry is well aware of the toll the opioid epidemic is taking on its workers.
“Hard work, very physically demanding, someone gets injured they really don’t want to lose that opportunity to work so they’re self-prescribing medication of in some cases they’re actually taking prescriptions and still showing up for work,” said Carl Heinlein of the American Contractors Insurance Group.
Experts say fighting the opioid epidemic involves working with employers to prevent injuries, making sure injured workers get appropriate treatment and accomodating them when they return to the job. For those who do become addicted to opioids, help get them treatment.
"Ask for help. Trust some of your friends. Companies now understand now more than ever that they’d rather help than show you to the door,” said Heinlein.
The Department of Public Health said it plans to conduct more research and will develop and implement an educational outreach plan targeting high-risk workers, like construction workers and commercial fishermen.
"I love my industry and I want to do whatever I can to help it and have it move forward in a positive direction," said Tyler Miranda.
The DPH study found that for women, the highest risk of opioid overdose death was in health care support, those who lift and carry patients. After Massachusetts' report came out, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at millions of deaths and found the same trend with opioid overdoses.
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