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Bush-era cut to workplace injury rules swung door open to opioid crisis


Renée Loth is quite right when she points out the lurking perils and hidden (or not-so-hidden) costs of deregulation, to businesses and the public (“Regulation reconsidered,” Opinion, Aug. 2). She cites, for example, how the limited roles of the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration enabled pharmaceutical companies to underplay the risks of opioid addiction, fueling the current epidemic.

Another deregulatory act 18 years ago also contributed to the opioid crisis, although perhaps less obviously. That’s when the Republican Congress and President George W. Bush wiped out an Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulation, put in place in the last days of the Clinton administration, that was designed to reduce workplace-related musculoskeletal injuries, such as back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendinitis.


OSHA projected in 2000 that, over 10 years, more than 4 million of these painful and often debilitating injuries would be prevented. Absent that regulation, they remain the most common serious workplace injury, numbering more than 400,000 per year. Recent studies have shown, not surprisingly, that the often-excruciating pain they cause is frequently treated with opioids, resulting in far too many cases of addiction, and even death. How many of those injuries — and their aftermath — could have been avoided had the appetite for deregulation been a little less ravenous?

Michael Felsen

Jamaica Plain

The writer retired as New England regional solicitor with the US Department of Labor in 2018.