It’s good news that the Building Trades Employers’ Association hosted a conference that aims to reduce the stigma of opioid addiction among construction workers and promote treatment options for them (“Building trades targeting addiction,” Page A1, April 29). It is critical to address the needs of those suffering from opioid addiction, including access to quality, timely treatment and pain-management alternatives. But also critical to confronting this epidemic — and less frequently discussed — is the need to look long and hard at its underlying causes.
Opioid users seek to alleviate acute and chronic pain, and that pain frequently results from workplace injuries. A 2018 study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that rates of opioid-related overdose death were significantly higher among workers employed in industries and occupations known to have high rates of work-related injuries and illnesses.
There’s no mystery here: Reducing the occurrence of painful workplace injuries and illnesses will reduce opioid addiction commensurately. Any effort to stem the epidemic needs to include ratcheted-up measures to eliminate the hazards in the workplace that cause these injuries. This means, among other things, increased enforcement of existing safety and health standards, adoption of a national ergonomics standard designed to reduce the incidence of back and other muscle injuries, and comprehensive workplace safety and health management systems informed by direct worker involvement.
We need to treat those suffering now and do all we can to eliminate the conditions that will cause others to face a similar fate.
Felsen is former regional solicitor with the US Department of Labor.