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In Brief: People with Drug Use Disorders May be Foregoing Care During Pandemic

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Fear of COVID-19 and changes to healthcare delivery during the pandemic may be causing people with substance use disorders to avoid seeking any type of care and thus less likely to get treatment for addiction, according to researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine.  

In a paper published online Oct. 21 in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, the researchers reviewed direct and indirect evidence of changing patterns of healthcare utilization during the pandemic. They cited recent findings from two U.S.-based studies that a procedure to clear blocked arteries and visits to physicians for stroke treatment—two examples of serious healthcare needs—both declined by about 40 percent during the COVID-19 crisis.

They also presented preliminary data, from four large New York City hospitals, showing a similarly sharp drop in addiction consultations during the peak of the pandemic in the city—from an average of 42 during the 5 months preceding the pandemic, to 21 in March, just 11 in April, and 20 in May. The authors note that their findings align with preliminary data from states around the United States. that drug relapse and overdose rates have both risen substantially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing concerns that fatal drug overdoses, HIV infections, suicides, and other associated negative effects will continue to increase among this population, the researchers encourage increased collaboration between researchers, providers and state agencies in order to better identify people with drug use disorders across various settings. Suggestions include making better use of available data from electronic health records and prescription drug monitoring programs. “Identifying persons with drug use disorder and connecting them to evidence-based addiction treatment remains a top priority during the COVID-19 pandemic,” they write.

Corresponding author: Dr. Sean Murphy

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