The Bottom Line: Workplace Injuries and Opioids: What’s the Connection?
Posted on July 12, 2022 | in Ergonomics
More than 47,000 people died from opioid overdoses last year in the United States. Certified ergonomist Blake McGowan explains how workplace injuries or musculoskeletal disorders contribute to the epidemic in this installment of The Bottom Line.
References: Hawkins D, Roelofs C, Laing J, Davis L. Opioid-related overdose deaths by industry and occupation-Massachusetts, 2011-2015. Am J Ind Med. 2019 Oct;62(10):815-825.
Since the start of the opioid epidemic in the 1990s, more than 630,000 people have died due to opioid overdoses in the United States. Last year, more than 47,000 people died. There are many contributing factors to the opioid epidemic; however, workplace injuries or musculoskeletal disorders are often overlooked as one of them.
Physically demanding jobs and occupations commonly result in workplace injuries, and they are commonly treated with high doses and long-term prescriptions to opioids. Opioids allow these workers to continue to work or return to work more quickly.
Recently, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health investigated the relationship between occupation, workplace injuries, as well as opioid-related overdose deaths. They found two key findings. They found that workers and occupational groups with the highest workplace injury and illness rates had the highest opioid-related overdose death rates. These occupational groups included things like construction, farming, material movers, among others. They also found that workers and occupational groups with the lowest workplace injury and illness rates had the lowest opioid-related overdose rates. These would be considered or described as white-collar jobs.
So, what does this mean? What’s the bottom line? The bottom line is that workplace injuries are a contributing factor to the opioid epidemic in the United States. Addressing the risk factors for workplace injuries by deploying a systemic ergonomic initiative should be considered a primary prevention strategy for the opioid epidemic.