Today’s topic comes from a fascinating article in The Washington Post.

The troubling relationship between your job and your odds of drug overdose

This struck me as genuinely odd: Researchers at CDC have discovered a relationship between your occupation and your risk of overdosing on drugs. I’m not making that up.

Sure, we’ve all heard the stories about performance-enhancing drug use among college students, and about chronic drug problems among medical professionals who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) resist taking advantage of their access to abusable substances. Still, I’m curious to know which occupations landed at the very top (highest rate) and bottom (lowest) in CDC’s analysis.

Per the article:

  • By far the worst occupation to work in, at least in terms of OD risk: “construction and extraction”. If you’re not familiar with the latter term, an ‘extractive’ industry is one that deals with getting “raw materials from the earth (such as oil, metals, mineral and aggregates), processing and utilization by consumers.”

Maybe that’s not so surprising. After all, such projects often require a workforce to spend months in remote locations, away from home and family, working extra-long hours. That means men on their own, with money in their pockets and little to do in their free time. A ripe setting for drug use, I’d say.

  • In second place is restaurant work, which presumably includes establishments that serve alcohol in quantity. There’s the access issue again. Employment is often transitory, with many people working part-time, perhaps planning to move on to other fields as soon as possible.

Why is this important? CDC claims that 1 in 5 drug overdoses in 2020 – or 20% — involved people in those two job sectors alone. Something to think about.

As for the occupations least likely to feature elevated risk of overdose, we have education (the professionals, not the students) and computer-related work.

Really? I’ve long heard stories about drug abuse in the high tech industry, and not only the performance-enhancing kind, either.

As for possible explanations, several factors have been put forward as potentially influencing the findings. First is education level – fields that require more degrees and training tend to have lower rates of OD. Could be folks are just more cautious.

Also, since males tend to use drugs and alcohol more than females, I suppose a male-dominated field such as the construction trades would be expected to include more accidental overdoses.

Then again, doesn’t the restaurant industry depend heavily on women in the workforce? And overdoses are apparently a problem there.

The article closes with an interesting observation by one of the WaPo staff. “The share of workers in an occupation who are uninsured correlates even more strongly with its overdose death rate than education.”

No kidding? Isn’t that another argument in favor of universal healthcare?