Public Health and Safety

Substance Use Disorders and Increased Risks from COVID-19

September 24, 2020

According to a recent study (Wang, Kaelber, Xu and Volkow) published in Molecular Psychiatry, nearly 11 percent of the U.S. population has a substance use disorder (SUD). Additionally, those individuals with a current SUD are at increased risks for COVID-19 as well as its adverse outcomes. This study examined over 73 million health records and identified 7.5 million people that had been diagnosed with a SUD, 722,370 of those in the last year alone. Researchers found that individuals with a recent diagnosis of a SUD and COVID-19 were at a higher risk of adverse outcomes by over 8 fold. The adjusted odds ratios (AOR) were calculated for SUDs involving opioids (10.2), tobacco (8.2), alcohol (7.7), cocaine (6.5) and cannabis (5.2). Adverse outcomes were defined as hospitalization for a variety of medical conditions and included death of the patient.

Researches acknowledged the limitations of the study in terms of resources and the temporal nature of COVID-19. They stressed that assessing recent substance use, the social / economic factors in U.S. health care and support for treatment / recovery programs should all be considerations in addressing solutions for the current COVID-19 pandemic.

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