The healthcare industry, a cornerstone of society, stands as a beacon of care and healing. Yet, within its folds emerges a disconcerting concern: drug overdose among its workforce. This issue casts a shadow over the well-being of individuals dedicated to healing and reverberates through the healthcare system.
A study featured in the Annals of Internal Medicine observes the relationship between healthcare workers and their overdose risk. Their population sample included 176,000 healthcare workers and 1,662,000 people who didn’t work in healthcare. The study followed their sample from 2008 to the end of the study in 2019.
The study found that a very small percentage of the study sample, just 0.07%, died from a drug overdose. However, healthcare workers faced a bigger risk.
Registered nurses, healthcare support workers, and social/behavioral health workers had the highest overdose rates.
Statistical data portrays the heightened overdose risk that particular healthcare worker groups face. Notably, social and behavioral health workers stand out, 112% more likely to experience a drug overdose.
Healthcare support workers face a risk increase of 100%, while registered nurses show a 51% higher risk than their non-healthcare counterparts of a drug overdose.
The analysis extends to understanding the nature of overdose deaths within the healthcare worker realm instead of those outside it. The prevalence of opioid-related overdose deaths among healthcare workers is noteworthy, accounting for 84.5% of all overdoses by healthcare professionals.
Additionally, 76.0% of these overdose deaths were unintentional. Non-healthcare workers experience 76% of opioid-related deaths and 85% of unintentional overdose deaths.
Healthcare is a stressful occupation by nature. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities should provide resources and practices to reduce stress among the workforce. This may include mandatory breaks, having a therapist available for employees, and the ability to speak to management or a therapist without fear of retaliation.
Policies should already be in place for monitoring the use of controlled substances in medicine, but each facility should audit these policies to ensure a record of access to discourage personal use of controlled substances. Healthcare professionals know the inherent dangers of drug abuse and the importance of early intervention. Team leaders should ensure continuing education on drug abuse in healthcare professionals and encourage workers to come forward if they need help.
The issue of drug overdose among healthcare workers unearths a distressing reality within the profession. As custodians of health, these individuals grapple with vulnerabilities that affect their well-being and the quality of patient care. Urgent action is needed, from dismantling stigma to implementing tailored support systems.
By fostering a culture of compassion, providing accessible treatment, and addressing systemic stressors, we can safeguard healthcare workers’ lives and the integrity of the healthcare system. The path ahead requires a collective commitment to healing those who heal others.