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Study associates work injuries with overdose deaths

It probably doesn’t surprise the average American worker to find out that there’s a lot of people working despite their pain. What might be surprising, however, is how often injured workers end up dying of overdoses while trying to do it.

The typical image associated with an opiate overdose isn’t usually someone just trying to get through a day at work despite unrelenting pain — but workers in high-risk, high-injury industries are actually likely to overdose as much as six times more than people in other industries. According to a Massachusetts Department of Public Health study, the riskier the occupation, the more likely that someone is working while drugged. Many high-risk industries offer workers few benefits when it comes to sick leave. Nor do many workers feel like they have much in the way of job security if they are forced to take leave.

Since an injury on the job doesn’t change the fact that a worker still has bills to pay and, quite often, a family to support, many workers turn to prescription painkillers just to keep working. If they can’t get a prescription for painkillers, they’ll take a chance on whatever they can get illegally. Unfortunately, opiate painkillers lead frequently to addiction — so even workers who have recovered from their injuries may still be using pain drugs while on the job, unable to kick the addiction even long after they heal.

Whether a worker is using opiates merely to struggle through a day of hard labor despite severe pain or has developed an addiction after an injury, the use of drugs while on the job could be putting everyone at risk — although the drugs alone could become lethal.

What does this mean for workers in construction, health care and factories — or any other industry that can be physically punishing? The only solutions are better safety measures on the job and better protections for the injured. If you are injured on the job, don’t hesitate to seek help obtaining all the benefits you are due through workers’ compensation or other legal means.