Opioid Overdose Death High Among Occupations Involving Physical Activity

Feb 14, 2019, 10:15 AM | Updated: 12:32 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – First-of-its-kind research from the Utah Department of Health has shown which occupations are most vulnerable for opioid overdose deaths.

The report shows that occupations involving physical activity are at the top of the list.

“This opioid epidemic affects all walks of life,” said Angela Ito, the UDOH opioid prevention coordinator.

However, some workers are more vulnerable to opioid addiction and death than others. Ito said the state wants to make sure those workers have access to resources for recovery.

“(What) we wanted to understand is, who’s more vulnerable to this?” she said. “We found that there’s certain occupations that are more vulnerable.”

Among men, 229 construction workers died from an opioid overdose in Utah between 2012 and 2017. One-hundred-30 construction workers died from a heroin overdose.

“We think people needed to get back to work quicker,” Ito said about why opioid addiction was higher among construction workers. “A lot of times they went to physicians after their injury and probably had a quicker goal of treating this pain quickly so they could get back to work.”

Construction workers and other physical laborers, who do maintenance, repair and moving, also run a higher risk of physical injury.

“We see they’re more vulnerable to injury, therefore more vulnerable to being prescribed an opioid medication,” Ito said. “A lot of times they have less access to things such as opioid treatment when they do become addicted.”

As for women, there were more than 100 opioid deaths in Utah among health care professionals during the five-year period.

“I knew it was pretty prominent in that profession,” said Nadena Gibson.

She didn’t take her first opioid because of an injury. She took it because of availability while she was a nurse.

“I’d been working as a nurse about a year,” she said. “I had some leftover morphine from a patient when I got home one day.”

She knows now that she was hooked after taking that first pill.

“I started looking forward to getting home from work to be able to use, basically,” Gibson said. “It was pretty quick.”

She took her last opioid more than a decade ago, and has been completely sober for six years.

“I’ve learned how to work through the issues, cope through them” without resorting to opioids or alcohol, she said. “If you just start to recognize your pattern and know that you can’t go there, and stick with it, life gets amazingly better.”

The new research shows opioid overdose deaths were higher in Utah than for the rest of the nation in 2016. However, Utah has also seen a decrease in opioid overdose deaths in recent years.


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Opioid Overdose Death High Among Occupations Involving Physical Activity