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Study looks at reasons behind health care worker drug overdoses

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New York — Registered nurses, social and other behavioral health workers, and people in health care support face a significantly higher risk of drug-overdose death, according to the results of a recent study.

Researchers at the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Irving Medical Center examined data from the 2008 American Community Survey for 176,000 health care workers and nearly 1,700 non-health care workers. Participants were followed for cause of death through 2019.

Findings show that social workers and other behavioral health workers were 112% more likely to die of a drug overdose than the non-health care workers. Meanwhile, that percentage was 100 for health care support workers and 51 for RNs.

Access to opioids and other controlled prescriptions drugs, job stress, and work-related burnout are common reasons for the increased risks, the researchers said in a press release. In addition, health care workers regularly perform physically strenuous tasks that can lead to injury and result in opioid prescriptions to manage pain.

The researchers note that despite their findings, programs dedicated to treating health care workers with substance abuse issues are lacking.

“These new findings draw attention to the importance of identifying health care workers who may be struggling with substance use problems, helping them to access confidential and effective treatment,” Mark Olfson, a professor and epidemiologist at Columbia Public Health, said in the release.

The study was published online in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

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