Americans who worked in construction and extraction, food preparation, personal care, service and transportation, and material moving occupations were the most likely to die from drug overdoses during the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new data released Tuesday from the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Researchers from the CDC analyzed deaths caused by drug overdoses of working-age United States residents in 2020 in 46 states and New York City, focusing on industries and occupations.
The findings come as the CDC reports, “This trend intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic; the U.S. drug overdose death rate in 2021 was 50% higher than in 2019.”
The top industry groups to be affected by drug overdoses in 2020 were “construction, accommodation and food services, other services (except public administration), management, administrative, waste services, mining, arts, entertainment, recreation, and transportation and warehousing.”
And fishermen, sailors, roofers, drywall workers, ceiling tile installers, and conservation personnel were among the “individual census occupations and industries” most likely to be affected that year, the report found.
The report says that occupations or industries with the highest drug overdose rates were more likely to be ones where injured workers use prescription opioids due to physical injuries on the job.
Construction workers were four times more likely to die from drug overdoses than the whole population, for example, according to the research.
“That was not too surprising,” said Andrea Steege, one of the authors of the report and a lead research health scientist in the Health Informatics Branch of the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Division of Field Studies.
Researchers at the CDC conducted another study with fewer data years ago, Steege said, which also showed construction workers have higher mortality ratios as a result of drug overdoses compared to those with other occupations.
Overall, numerous factors contribute to drug overdose mortality risks dependent on occupation or industry, including differences in “workplace injury, work-related psychosocial stress, precarious employment, employer-provided health insurance status, and access to paid sick leave,” the report says.
The report shows the drugs used by those who died include “heroin, natural and semisynthetic opioids, methadone, synthetic opioids other than methadone, cocaine, and psychostimulants with abuse potential.”
It also shows that 64% of drug overdose cases in usual occupations and industries in 2020 involved synthetic opioids “other than methadone.”
“This drug class comprised the largest proportion of drug overdose deaths within every occupation and industry group,” the report reads.


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