In his article “Taking opioid fight out to sea” (Page A1, April 18), Brian MacQuarrie paraphrases fishermen and industry observers who pointed out what has become an accepted truth about current conditions: Opioid abuse is rampant in much of society, and everyone is vulnerable. One important root cause affecting commercial fishermen, which MacQuarrie cites, is the injury and chronic pain resulting from their strenuous physical workload.
I have interviewed hundreds of lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts over the past four years and discovered a high prevalence of pain and an injury rate among the highest of any occupational group. Construction workers are also commonly cited as high risk, as are health care workers tasked with handling patients. In 2015, there were at least 27,400 recognized work-related injuries in Massachusetts. How many of these people turned to pain medication and then unintentionally became part of the opioid epidemic?
Naloxone is an effective emergency treatment only at the last possible point of intervention. A full societal effort also requires interventions that avoid the initial opioid exposure in the first place. Primary prevention of workplace injury and pain would stop the downward slide for some.
Fishing Partnership Support Services and other organizations that helped implement the naloxone program on fishing boats deserve the positive attention brought by this article. They have also long offered training in injury prevention , helping to implement early interventions that would ideally make on-board naloxone unnecessary.
Other essential resources include the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, whose budget has been repeatedly threatened, and Massachusetts’ Occupational Health Surveillance Program. Working people need more, not less, attention to their labor and how it is affecting our lives and the health of our communities.
The writer is on the research staff at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.