Michael Peelish, Esq.
Opioid Addiction Disproportionately Affects Miners
“Why miners?” is the first question people ask when the topic of opioid addiction and occupational injuries is raised. The answer has been partly addressed for aggregate industry miners through a recent study conducted by Cora Roelofs, ScD, a research faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace. Roelofs points out in the study that “extraction workers, which includes stone, sand and gravel workers, had the highest rate of death by prescription opioids.” The study analyzed data from the National Occupational Institute of Safety and Health and other sources (Workers Compensation Research Institute) and concluded that industries with the highest injury rates have the highest overdose rates. Essentially, the type of work tasks performed by miners leads to muscle skeletal type injuries which leads to high prescription rate for pain killers.
The study noted many challenges facing the industry insofar as miners not willing to come forward to admit they have a problem and to seek help, or miners who are taking other types of prescription pain killers and fail to report these to management yet operate equipment. Also, the opioid addiction can exist even with drug testing programs since medical review officers must recognize a prescription for narcotics and will check the box as a negative test. In a Shakespearean sort of tragedy, it is the vicious cycle of “prescribed pain-killers begets more pain”. And is it any surprise that the statistics show what they show? So, facing the workplace realities, what can companies do?
The outcome of the study was awareness training. The training intervention was introduced to the mining industry at the MSHA Tram Conference in October 2020, and in an article by ROCKproducts Magazine December 2020 edition published by NSSGA. The training information is free at https://www.uml.edu/Research/CPH-NEW/education-training/Opioid-Awareness/default.aspx. This training arms the patient with information to seek alternatives to opioids that are not addictive and that do not always involve narcotic prescription drugs. Also, the training encourages employers to have and employees to use assistance programs although some smaller companies may not offer this type of benefit.
This training needs to be continued so that even if an employee does not have a problem her/himself, they could identify someone who might have a problem. Also, this study should be expanded into the coal mining sector to confirm the hypothesis and as important to identify other possible solutions for this hard-hit industry including public health options and smaller mine operations. As small as the mining sector is relative to overall construction, general, and maritime industries, it seems that for a small smart investment by companies and government in intense training and other interventions, a significant dent could be made in the side of opioid addiction in these highly focused geographical areas.