Massachusetts Opioid Crisis Hits Construction Workers Hard

There is no question we are in the midst of a major opioid abuse epidemic in the U.S. Traditionally, the Greater Boston area always had more problems with heroin abuse as compared to many other areas in the nation. But now we are seeing more and more people struggling with addiction to prescription to painkillers that are opioid based.

While the effects of opioid addiction can be devastating whether a person is addicted to Oxycontin purchased at a local pharmacy or heroin bought in a hand-to-hand transaction on the street, many of those who have become addicted to painkillers started taking them as a result of an on the job injury.

workers' compensation attorney BostonOne thing to keep in mind is that an on the job injury can occur following a single traumatic event. But as our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys can explain, a workplace injury can also occur from years of wear and tear on the joints and human body.  We see repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) like carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), but we also see many cases where employees suffer serious back and joint issues as a result of working on a construction site or at other manual labor. These workers tend to be prescribed painkillers and they can become addictive, especially when they are over-prescribed as is a common problem in our area.

According to a recent news article from The Boston Globe, around 25 percent of all opioid related deaths in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts involve construction workers who are being pressured to work through the pain rather than taking time off or collecting workers’ compensation benefits.

This conclusion was based upon a study and subsequent report released by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  The deaths related to opioid abuse all involved fatal overdoses, though it should be noted abuse of painkillers can lead to other types of serious disability and death due to liver failure and other organ damage as the body was not meant to process such high and continued use of toxic drugs.

This recent study was conducted by doing surveillance research on deaths that occurred in a five-year period. A surveillance study means that records for the medical officer are examined by researchers and data is collected, but the victims did not have to participate in the study or give their consent.  They do have some rights to privacy, but this is handled by stripping identifying information from the records collected before including them in a study.

The study found that most of those who died were men. That makes sense since we are mainly dealing with people in the construction trades and that is an industry largely dominated by male employees, though there are certainly women working on construction sites in our area. In addition to the much higher rates of deaths for construction workers, there were also high rates of overdoses found in those who work as fishermen and farmers.  Commercial fishing is still a very viable type of employment in our area, especially on the North and South shore areas, and this is also an occupation where there is a high injury rate coupled with a great deal of pressure to work through the pain.

One of the main reasons for this pressure to work through the pain is many construction workers have very little job security. This is not necessarily the case for those who have needed skills like being certified to operate cranes and other complicated machines. But in the case of laborers, they can easily be replaced by employers if they don’t show up to work. Due to this transient nature of employment, many have not been on the job long enough to accrue any significant amount of sick time, so they will choose to work through the pain. This is often accomplished by taking over the counter pain medications like Advil, but many also take OxyContin and other prescription painkillers. Even taking over the counter painkillers can lead to serious health issues like ulcers since they were not meant to taken in large does for extended periods of time and these injuries can also be the basis for filing a valid workers’ compensation claim in Boston.

Another problem is that once someone becomes addicted to painkillers, insurance companies and doctors may not want to have them taking any more drugs, so they will suddenly stop prescribing them, switch to cheaper pain control drugs (sadly this can be methadone) or taper the dose. If this leads to withdrawal symptoms as it often does, many will be forced to look for prescription drugs on the street. This is very expensive, and since it is illegal anyway, many will see themselves as having no choice but to turn to heroin which is very cheap and easy to obtain in our area.

If you are in this situation, you should not only seek medical help, or addiction counseling, but you should also speak with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in Boston. Even though you may be under pressure from your employer to work though the pain, your employer cannot legally retaliate against you for filing a valid workers’ compensation claim.  You may also be able to get real treatment for your underlying disabling condition as well as any subsequent addiction issues through your employers’ workers’ compensation insurance company. These are all things you can and should discuss with an experienced workplace injury lawyer during your free initial consultation.

You should not be concerned about being able to afford an experienced workers’ compensation attorney because this no-fault system is set up in such a way that you will not have to pay anything fees unless and until your attorney is successful in obtaining a workers’ compensation benefits award. If you are successful, your attorney will collect any fees owed from a retroactive benefits award paid directly by your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance company.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a Boston work accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

‘Pressure to work in pain.’ A quarter of Mass. opioid deaths are in construction, August 8, 2018, by Felice J. Freyer, Globe Staff

More Blog Entries:

Third-Party Liability in Massachusetts Work-Related Injuries, Deaths, March 13, 2018, Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorney Blog