Research links high occupational injury rates to opioid overdose risk

Jobs with the highest rates of opioid overdose fatalities generally have high occupational injury rates and low access to paid sick leave, according to a research paper on the economic impacts of opioids released Monday by the Brookings Institution.

Industries with the highest rates of overdose fatalities in the workplace have elevated occupational injury rates for fractures and musculoskeletal disorders, both of which are “significant risk factors” for long-term opioid use, researchers wrote.

Brookings researchers identified several studies that linked occupational injuries and the risk of opioid dependence: a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2019 of workers compensation claims from 2013-2015 in Tennessee found that one-third of injured workers had received an opioid prescription within six months of their occupational injury; and a national study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2022 examined construction workers, finding that individuals with occupational injuries were nearly four times more likely to use prescription opioids than those without injuries. Another study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2012, examined opioid-related deaths in 2008 and 2009 and found that 57% of all those who died had experienced at least one prior occupational injury.

The lack of sick pay was another element related to work that raises the risk for overdose. Brookings researchers found that workers without access to sick leave often take opioids “in order to manage pain and continue working, making them more vulnerable” to long-term use and overdose.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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