As people across the region continue to deal with the devastating opioid crisis, some employers are now making sure they have Narcan — a life saving treatment for opioid overdoses — on site.
"Five years ago, we didn't talk about it. I don't believe that five years ago, we even thought about it," said Michael Sanchez, chief of construction at Shawmut Design and Construction.
In the last year, Sanchez has helped the company organize a task force to examine the issue and come up with best ways to address it moving forward. This year, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that the opioid-related death rate for those working in construction and extraction was six times the average rate for all workers in the state between 2011-2015.
"The cases of overdose and addiction have grown so significantly, so quickly that you can't ignore it anymore," said Sanchez. "Rather than ignore it, I think you need to be proactive. It's here. We need to deal with it. We need to do what we can to protect our folks, protect our subcontractors."
That begins with deploying Narcan to anywhere between 30-50 of the company's work sites, focusing at first on some of the larger projects with greater numbers of workers.
"Many employers have seen and witnessed overdoses within their own businesses," said Michael Botticelli, the executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center.
Last week, a report from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation found that businesses in the state have been losing billions annually due to absent or unproductive workers who are addicted to opioids. According to Botticelli, companies like Shawmut can help turn things around.
"We need every sector of society, not just government or health care, but everybody has a role to play," explained Botticelli.
While Shawmut has not documented any incidents of drug abuse at their sites in the state, Sanchez said they plan to expand their safety efforts moving forward.
"We'd love to solve it," he said of addiction. "But the first thing we can do is help to control it."