NIH: COVID-19 higher risk for those with addiction issues

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A new study from the National Institutes of Health has found that people with substance use disorders are more susceptible to COVID-19 and complications that arise from it.

The research, published Monday in Molecular Psychiatry, looked at non-identifiable electronic health records of millions of COVID-19 patients across the country. Coauthor Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, found that health care providers should closely monitor their patients with SUDs and develop action plans to shield them from infection.

According to the research, although individuals with an SUD made up only 10.3 percent of the total study population, they represented nearly 16 percent of the COVID-19 cases. Those with opioid use disorder and tobacco use disorder were more likely to develop COVID-19. Additionally, individuals with an SUD were more likely to need hospitalization or suffer fatal consequences from the disease.

“The lungs and cardiovascular system are often compromised in people with SUD, which may partially explain their heightened susceptibility to COVID-19,” said Dr. Volkow. “Another contributing factor is the marginalization of people with addiction, which makes it harder for them to access health care services. It is incumbent upon clinicians to meet the unique challenges of caring for this vulnerable population, just as they would any other high-risk group.”

The study looked at records collected by June 15, 2020, from more than 360 hospitals, for more than 73 million patients, of which only 7.5 million had been diagnosed with an SUD at some point in their lives. Just over 12,000 were diagnosed with COVID-19. About 1,880 had both an SUD and COVID-19 diagnoses.

Patients with SUDs were more likely to be hospitalized than those without an SUD diagnoses – 41 percent versus 30.1 percent – or die from the disease – 9.6 percent versus 6.6 percent.

African Americans with a recent opioid use disorder diagnosis were over four times more likely to develop COVID-19, compared to whites. Researchers attributed that to African Americans with opioid use disorder being more likely to have underlying conditions like hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and renal diseases, all risk factors for COVID-19.

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