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Study: Substance Use Disorder Associated With Increased COVID-19 Risk

September 28, 2020

By: Christopher Sirota, CPCU

According to a 2018 U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), it is estimated that 1 in 5 people (over 50 million) aged 12 and over are past year users of illicit drugs in the U.S., with over 10 million considered misusers of opioids (9.9 million prescription pain reliever misusers and 808,000 heroin users). Of those classified as opioid misusers, about 2 million (1.7 million for prescription pain relievers, and 500,000 for heroin) were reportedly dependent on the drug in a way that meets the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD).

Now, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced the results of a study that indicates people who are considered to have a SUD may be more at risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus, and for developing more severe symptoms.

Per the article, researchers analyzed the de-identified electronic health records (EHR) of over 73 million patients (in 360 U.S. hospitals) that were hospitalized during the pandemic until June 2020. The article notes the results as follows:

  • 7.5 million of the patients had previously been diagnosed with a SUD (associated with at least one of the following: cocaine, alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, an opioid)
  • About 12,000 patients were confirmed COVID-19 cases
  • About 1,880 had been diagnosed on record with both an SUD and COVID-19

The researchers reportedly determined that patients with a SUD had a higher rate of COVID-19 -related hospitalizations and a higher death rate (see the chart below) than those without an SUD. In addition, the study found that African Americans with an SUD were four times more likely to contract the COVID-19 virus than whites.

SUD and COVID-19.png

Source: National Institutes of Health
© Insurance Services Office, Inc., 2020

Among the substances investigated, the data reportedly indicated that the risk of contracting COVID-19 for patients with previously diagnosed opioid-related SUD was the highest.

A related article in Healio added this quote from the researchers:

“These results suggest that while comorbidities associated with SUD likely contributed to the increased risk of COVID-19 and to worse outcomes among SUD patients, [specifically] pharmacological effects of drugs of abuse (e.g., opioid induced respiratory depression) as well as behavioral and socioeconomic factors could facilitate COVID-19 infection and increase risk for adverse outcomes […].”

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