Addiction & Overdose

The Impact of COVID-19 on People Who Use Drugs

September 21, 2022

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020, Professor Carl Latkin and his team sought to understand how people who use drugs engaged in COVID-19 prevention behaviors and their access to resources and healthcare during the pandemic. They also wanted to design an intervention to help participants directly.  

The researchers, with funding from the Initiative, conducted qualitative interviews with people who were regularly using illicit opioids. For the intervention, the team trained 50 people who use drugs to be peer educators on COVID-19 prevention to their social network members and others in their community. 

The team also surveyed 500 people online using MTurk, an online data collection platform, to examine how other vulnerable populations, based on race and ethnicity, social class, and physical health status, are adversely impacted by the pandemic.  

The researchers found:  

  • A diverse impact of the pandemic within different populations. Programs need to be tailored to the unique needs of individuals. Many people who use drugs have other health conditions that put them at risk and they need more medical care, which was difficult to obtain during the pandemic.  

  • The pandemic had a profound impact on mental health and access to food among people who use drugs in Baltimore.  

  • There are racial and ethnic differences in vaccine hesitancy; programs need to address these differences to promote vaccine uptake.  

Dr. Latkin and his team published 8 peer reviewed publications based on the data collected. They also secured additional funding to address disparities in COVID-19 vaccine uptake and to develop peer-based interventions for communities of color to promote vaccine uptake. In addition, the researchers helped the Baltimore City Health Department develop programs and disseminate informational materials to people who use drugs and others to prevent COVID-19 and provide access to COVID-19 testing  

Read the peer-reviewed publications here:  

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