Occupations Associated with Drug Overdose Deaths

Source: Dirk Ercken - 123RF/Sun News

According to a recent survey from the National Safety Council, more than 70% of U.S. employers are dealing with the direct impact of prescription drug misuse in their workplaces. But, drug use in the workplace has taken an ominous turn.

According to a new study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, deaths from unintentional drug and alcohol overdoses in the workplace rose more than 30 percent in 2016. The BLS study goes on to state that overdose fatalities have increased by at least 25 percent annually since 2012.

NIOSH researchers recently examined unintentional and undetermined drug overdose mortality within 26 occupational groups using data from the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance system, or NOMS.

According to their report, which appears in the Aug. 24 issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, construction occupations had the highest proportional mortality ratios for drug overdose deaths and for both heroin-related and prescription opioid-related overdose deaths.

The occupations with the highest proportional mortality ratios for natural and semisynthetic opioids were healthcare practitioners and extraction workers, including miners and those working in oil and gas extraction.

By identifying occupations associated with drug overdose deaths, the report further characterizes the opioid epidemic.

“The variation by occupation group in this study leads to speculation about opioid initiation or use and the work environment,” the report reads. “A single on-the-job injury (e.g., fracture or dislocation) or chronic work-related pain (e.g., caused by repetitive motion or lifting) might result in a prescription for pain medication.”

Fifty-two to 80 percent of injured workers who received pain medications were prescribed opioids in 2013–2015, according to workers’ compensation data from 26 states. NIOSH researchers note that an estimated 64 percent of self-reported illicit opioid users were employed full-time or part-time in 2016.

According to the report’s authors, incorporating workplace research and targeted interventions might benefit the opioid epidemic response.