An ongoing study by the Institute for Work and Health and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre has revealed that the segment of labor that includes mining and construction as well as forestry in the Canadian province are more apt to have an emergency or be hospitalized tied to opioid use.
The ongoing report, entitled Opioid-related Harms Among Ontario Workers, said that, between January 2016 and September 2022, over 34,000 people died from opioid use, with one co-lead on the study, Dr. Nancy Carnade, noting that the study has come after a growing public health crisis for opioid poisonings across North America.
Carnade and Dr. Jeavana Sritharan, the scientist surveillance lead at OCRC, recently released their findings during a webinar from EPID at Work, an occupational health research institute at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.
“Males of working age, particularly those between the ages of 30 and 49, have been disproportionately affected,” Carnade said. “This has led to interest in understanding why we are seeing these patterns, including interest in the role of occupation.”
The researchers collected data too from the Occupational Disease Surveillance System (ODSS), a large informational database collected from more than 2.37 million Ontario workers. It aids in identifying trends related to occupational disease.
In particular, she said, this study looked at data from 1.7 million of those workers, all previously injured on the job.
Sritharan said opioid-related harms in their study consisted of both opioid poisonings such as overdoses, both intentional and unintentional, as well as mental and behavioral disorders. At the core of the research was two types of results from opioid-related harms between 2006 and 2020: visits to the emergency department and hospitalizations.
The researchers said there were two types of comparison; first, they examined opioid-related harms among workers in the ODSS as compared to their counterparts in the general population. Second, they compared opioid-related harms between workers within the ODSS.
“What we saw overall is that workers in the ODSS had an elevated risk for all opioid-related harms when compared to the general Ontario population,” Sritharan said.
“So, when looking at opioid-related harm by either data source – emergency department visit or hospitalizations – the (numbers) are elevated and statistically significant.”
Along with mining, construction and forestry, the same labor category included materials handling, processing, machining, logging and transport equipment operating.
Their results, Sritharan said, mirror findings found in U.S. studies. Additionally, tor workers who were hospitalized due to opioid-related harm, the findings were similar.
Workers in eastern Ontario and Toronto were less likely to experience opioid-related harms than all other workers in the ODSS, she added.
Carnide stressed that more research is needed in regards to exploring the relationship between work and opioid-related harm, but the current theory is that workers who are injured are more likely to use opioids to ease the pain from injury. A worker’s mental health may also suffer, which could make use more likely.
Another perspective: some workers may feel pressured to return to work following their injury, or lack appropriate workplace accommodations. Other causes: insufficient sick leave or a belief of job insecurity. Carnide added that certain occupational groups may be at higher risk because many, like construction or transportation, tend to be male-dominated.
“In those environments, workers could feel pressure to work through the pain, or substance use could simply be more accepted at their workplace,” she said.
“Workers may not be forthcoming about either their pain or substance use due to concerns about stigma and the potential consequences they may face at work if they do disclose that information. This is particularly true if you think about safety-sensitive occupations, and certainly this could potentially exacerbate issues that the worker is facing.”
The full report is available here.
Source: Northern Ontario Business (Workers in construction, mining most impacted by opioid-related harm: research – Northern Ontario Business)