PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Health has found that construction workers make up nearly a quarter of all fatal opioid overdose victims in the state.
The data was collected from July 2016 to June 2018 and found those in the natural resources, construction and maintenance occupation category — trades like plumbers, fishermen and carpenters — had a much higher rate of opioid-involved overdose death.
The trend in Rhode Island is in line with what’s been observed nationally.
Rachel Scagos, a senior public health epidemiologist at the Department of Health, said experts are not exactly sure why those in the construction and extraction arenas are disproportionately affected.
“We’re still looking into it, but we definitely recommend that for injury prevention, if you are injured on a job site, do not use opioids to treat that injury,” she told Eyewitness News.
Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, believes part of the reason construction workers are more frequently impacted by fatal overdoses is because of the physically demanding nature of the job.
“We are working aggressively to change the culture because it is an industry where toughness and perseverance dominate,” Sabitoni said in a statement. “There is pressure to get back to work even if you are injured or in pain. Sick days and time off for health care are often rare. Appointments need to be scheduled after work which can be difficult, especially with overtime or night shifts.”
He also said there needs to be a cultural shift so those who are hurt or sick will feel like they can ask for help or take time off without being stigmatized or risk losing their jobs.
The Department of Health hopes by informing the public of the trend, it’ll save lives.
Anyone who is struggling with addiction is encouraged to reach out to BH Link, a 24/7 service provider in East Providence, at (401) 414-LINK.