In a new study, researchers found that people with substance use disorders are more susceptible to COVID-19 and its complications.
The findings suggest that health care providers should closely monitor patients with SUDs and develop action plans to help shield them from infection and severe outcomes.
The study was done by a team at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
By analyzing the non-identifiable electronic health records (EHR) of millions of patients in the United States, the team found that while people with a substance use disorder constituted 10.3% of the total study population, they represented 15.6% of the COVID-19 cases.
The analysis showed that those with a recent substance use disorder diagnosis on record were more likely than those without to develop COVID-19, an effect that was strongest for opioid use disorder, followed by tobacco use disorder.
People with a substance use disorder diagnosis were also more likely to experience worse COVID-19 outcomes than people without a substance use disorder.
The complicating effects of substance use disorders were visible in increased adverse consequences of COVID-19.
Hospitalizations and death rates of COVID-19 patients were all elevated in people with recorded substance use disorders compared to those without (41.0% versus 30.1% and 9.6% versus 6.6%, respectively).
The team says the lungs and cardiovascular system are often compromised in people with substance use disorders, which may partially explain their heightened susceptibility to COVID-19.
Another contributing factor is the marginalization of people with addiction, which makes it harder for them to access health care services.
According to the authors, the study findings underscore the need to screen for and treat, substance use disorders as part of the strategy for controlling the pandemic.
Additional research needs to be done to better understand how best to treat those with substance use disorders who are at risk for COVID-19 and counsel on how to avoid the risk of infection.
One author of the study is Nora D. Volkow, M.D., the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
The study is published in Molecular Psychiatry.
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