Drug abuse is an increasing problem across the U.S. From 1999 to 2017, the number of drug overdose deaths rose from 16,849 to 70,237. Drug overdoses occur in a variety of locations, and the workplace has not been immune to these incidents.
A recent NIOSH study examined the rate at which drug overdose deaths occurred in the workplace between 2011 and 2016, and compared fatality rates among different industries and demographics. The study, published in the journal of Injury Prevention, found that during that six-year period, 760 drug overdose deaths occurred in U.S. workplaces.
Although the rate of workplace overdose deaths was low (0.9 per 1 million full-time workers), relative to other causes of workplace fatalities, there was a 24 percent annual increase over the study period.
While drug use and abuse cuts across many industries, three in particular experienced a disproportionate number of drug overdose deaths. The study found that nearly 50 percent of all workplace overdose deaths occurred in the transportation and warehousing, construction, and healthcare and social assistance industries.
In addition, this issue has particularly affected small businesses given that one-third of workplace overdose deaths occurred in businesses with fewer than 10 employees. The largest category of drugs involved in these incidents were illicit drugs including cannabinoids and cocaine, with heroin being the drug most frequently associated with workplace overdose deaths.
The study emphasizes the importance of looking at the relationship between workplace hazards, injuries and opioid use, given that a worker who experiences an injury is more likely to use prescription opioids for treatment, thereby increasing the chances for misuse or overdose. Furthermore, opioid use may hinder a worker’s ability to operate safely on the job, thus putting themselves and their co-workers at risk.
“Better understanding the demographics of workers, and the workers and industries most affected by drug overdoses, has implications on prevention programs developed for workplaces,” says Dr. Hope Tiesman, research epidemiologist and lead author of the study. “This research also has implications for workplace-based messages and strategies.”
Find more information on combatting opioid abuse in the workplace on the NIOSH website.
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