A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health links the work environment as an aggravating factor in opioid use and overdose among workers. It also identified that employers can perform an important role throughout the continuum of substance use, from prevention to recovery.
The research revealed that there are two work-related routes that may connect workers to opioid use including: injury and/or repetitive trauma from arduous labor or, mental stress due to job demands, economic insecurity, and work instability resulting in mental health disorders. Occasionally, employees may experience these concurrently.
Among the industries in the U.S. that are the most affected by the use of opioids with elevated mortality ratios are Construction and Extraction (mining and petroleum), Food Preparation and Serving, and Health Care Support. These occupations are all physically demanding with elevated injury rates.
Several of the main barriers to workers reporting injuries has to do with the stigma associated with seeking help and their fear of retaliation by employers resulting in job loss. Additionally, lack of paid sick days prompted employees to continue working, even when in pain, possibly increasing their reliance on pain medicine.
The authors’ recommendations included improvements to be addressed by employers, broader policy changes, and additional research needs, all to better address how the workplace can help close the workplace gap on the prevention of opioid use disorders and overdose deaths.
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