Rising Drug Overdose Rates in Certain Workforce Industries

Rising Drug Overdose Rates in Certain Workforce Industries

A recent CDC report reveals distressing trends in drug overdose deaths, spotlighting the heightened vulnerability of construction and restaurant workers in 2020. The study, analyzing data from 46 states and New York City, emphasizes the disproportionate challenges faced by specific sectors in the U.S. workforce.

Construction workers top the list with a staggering 131 deaths per 100,000, closely followed by restaurant workers at 99 deaths per 100,000. These varying rates underscore a significant health equity issue within the workforce.

Researchers identify two intersecting pathways behind these disparities: on-the-job injuries leading to physical pain and cumulative trauma, coupled with work-related psychosocial stress. Construction workers, with one of the highest injury rates nationwide, face heightened risks, often resulting in opioid prescriptions for pain relief, potentially escalating to heroin, methadone, and cocaine use. For restaurant workers, job nature and limited benefits contribute to elevated risks. Physical demands, coupled with job instability and a lack of benefits, create an environment conducive to work-related injuries and increased stress levels. Relaxed workplace norms around substance use in some food service establishments also play a role in influencing substance abuse.

Waste services, transportation, and arts workers are also identified as facing elevated risks of drug overdose deaths. Opioids are implicated in 64% of overdose deaths across all industries, underscoring the widespread impact of this drug class.

With the National Institute on Drug Abuse reporting an increase in overdoses from 2019 to 2021, exceeding 106,000 in 2021, urgent action is needed. The CDC's findings highlight the intricate relationship between occupation, injury, and substance abuse. Urgent actions are necessary to implement preventative measures, enhance workplace conditions, and provide crucial support systems for construction and restaurant workers. By addressing these challenges head-on, we can strive to create a safer and healthier environment for all members of the workforce.


Nzanga, M. (2023, September 2). Construction, food workers most likely to die from overdoses: CDC. The Messenger. https://themessenger.com/health/overdose-drug-cdc-construction-food-workers-chronic-pain-retail-media

Billock RM, Steege AL, Miniño A. Drug overdose mortality by usual occupation and industry: 46 U.S. states and New York City, 2020. National Vital Statistics Reports; vol 72 no 7. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2023. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.15620/cdc:128631.