The impact of drug overdoses in the workplace can be better understood in a study recently published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), particularly as drug overdose fatalities increase across the country. The study, published online in the journal of Injury Prevention, describes drug overdose deaths of workers occurring in US workplaces between 2011-2016.

Drug use by employees can result in workplace injuries, and workplace overdoses. Between 2011 and 2016, 760 drug overdose deaths occurred in US workplaces. When compared to other more common causes of death at work, the workplace overdose fatality rate was low at 0.9 per 1,000,000 full time workers, but there was a significant increase in the rate of overdose deaths over the 6-year study period, resulting in a 24% increase annually. Study findings include:

  • Nearly half of workplace overdose deaths occurred in three industries: transportation and warehousing, construction, and healthcare and social assistance.
  • One-third of workplace overdose deaths occurred in businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
  • The largest category of drugs used in workplace overdose deaths were illicit drugs such as cocaine, cannabinoids, and heroin.
  • Heroin was the single most frequent drug associated with workplace overdose deaths.

Drug use, particularly opioids, can be both a personal risk factor for work-related injury as well as a consequence of workplace injury hazards. In the construction industry for example, a greater number of physical hazards increase the risk of on-the-job injuries and chronic musculoskeletal conditions. These outcomes lead to prescription opioid use for the injury and, in some cases, subsequent misuse. This may affect the worker’s ability to return to work or to function safely in the workplace, and could also increase the risk for opioid use disorder or overdose death. 

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

The new study can be accessed here. For more information about opioids in the workplace, visit this page. For more information about the use of naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose, visit this page. For specific information about fentanyl and preventing occupational exposure, visit this page.

NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. For more information about NIOSH visit