Nurses & some other health care workers face double the risk for deadly drug overdoses

As the United States grapples with its most dire drug epidemic to date, a series of groundbreaking studies have turned the spotlight on those most vulnerable. Among these investigations, a particularly striking revelation comes from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study reveals that nurses, social and behavioral healthcare professionals, and health support workers face around double the odds of dying from a drug overdose compared to employed adults outside the healthcare field.

However, on the flip side, physicians, diagnosticians, and healthcare technicians do not appear to bear the same heightened risk. While the study doesn’t detail the reasons behind the increased risks, Dr. Mark Olfson, a co-author of the study, told U.S. News & World Report that the emotionally taxing nature of caring for severely ill patients could potentially drive healthcare workers to seek relief in illicit substances. He also suggests that nurses might find themselves with heightened access to addictive opioid medications, and the prevalence of physical injuries among home health care aides might contribute to their susceptibility.

“They have very high rates of occupational injuries, among the very highest of all the occupations in the United States,” Olfson told U.S. News & World Report.

Another piece of research in the National Survey on Drug Use & Health reveals that of the 46 million Americans who struggle with substance use disorder, around 60% of them over the age of 12 are employed. Researchers say that many workplaces don’t discuss addiction and treatment options as much as they should.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, nearly 110,000 Americans died from drugs in 2022.