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Heroin, opioids contributed to ‘significant increase’ of workplace overdose deaths: NIOSH

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Washington — The rate of overdose deaths among workers rose 24% annually over a recent six-year period, with heroin and opioids the most common contributors, results of a new NIOSH study show.

Researchers reviewed 2011-2016 data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries database. They identified 760 workplace drug overdose deaths over the six-year period for a rate of 0.9 per 1 million full-time equivalent workers. Although that rate is comparatively low relative to other common causes of fatal workplace injuries, the researchers saw a “significant increase” in the number and rate of overdose deaths over the course of the study period.

Other findings:

  • Workers ages 25-34 (205) and 35-44 (202) made up 53.6% of all workplace overdose deaths.
  • Men accounted for 84.2% of the deaths.
  • One-third occurred in organizations with 10 or fewer employees.
  • More than 40% were recorded in three industries: transportation and warehousing (15.3%), construction (15%), and health care and social assistance (12.6%).

Additionally, illicit drugs – narcotics, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin and cannabinoids – contributed to the highest number of deaths, with heroin being the most common.

“Better understanding the demographics of workers, and the workers and industries most affected by drug overdoses, has implications on prevention programs developed for workplaces,” Hope Tiesman, lead study author and research epidemiologist at NIOSH, said in a May 14 press release. “This research also has implications for workplace-based messages and strategies.”

Two-thirds of employers in the United States are or will be affected by the opioid epidemic, a recent survey conducted by The Hartford insurance company found. A similar survey conducted by the National Safety Council found that 75% of employers said their organizations have been directly affected by opioids, contributing to workplace overdoses and injuries, positive drug tests, and absenteeism.


The researchers advise employers to address prescription drug use and misuse in the workplace via resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association and NSC.

The study was published online April 10 in the journal Injury Prevention.

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