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Fatal Drug Overdose Risks of American Health Care Workers

Healthcare workers in the U.S. are at increased risk of dying from drug overdoses compared with non-healthcare workers, a study shows. The results suggest “the need to identify and intervene on those at high risk,” the authors conclude, with particular attention to registered nurses, social or behavioral health workers, and healthcare support workers.

The prospective cohort study included 176,000 healthcare workers (physicians, registered nurses, other treating or diagnosing healthcare workers, health technicians, healthcare support workers, and social or behavioral health workers) and 1.6 million nonhealthcare workers aged 26 years or older in 2008. During follow-up through 2019, the researchers found the following: “Approximately 0.07% of our study sample died of a drug overdose during follow-up. Among healthcare workers, annual standardized rates of drug overdose death per 100,000 persons ranged from 2.3 (95% CI, 0 to 4.8) for physicians to 15.5 (CI, 9.8 to 21.2) for social or behavioral health workers. Compared with those for non–healthcare workers, the adjusted hazards of total drug overdose death were significantly increased for social or behavioral health workers (adjusted hazard ratio, 2.55 [CI, 1.74 to 3.73]), registered nurses (adjusted hazard ratio, 2.22 [CI, 1.57 to 3.13]), and health care support workers (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.60 [CI, 1.19 to 2.16]), but not for physicians (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.61 [CI, 0.19 to 1.93]), other treating or diagnosing health care workers (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.93 [CI, 0.44 to 1.95]), or health technicians (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.13 [CI, 0.75 to 1.68]). Results were generally similar for opioid-related overdose deaths and unintentional overdose deaths.”

Source: Annals of Internal Medicine