Addiction & Overdose

New Report Shares Perspectives of People Who Use Drugs During the Pandemic

March 17, 2022

At a time of record fatal overdoses in the US, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have released a new report, entitled In Their Own Words: Experiences of People Who Use Drugs During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Considering the voices of people who use drugs can inform policy decision-making as the United States looks to reduce the ongoing overdose crisis and set policies going forward. The report shares personal experiences of people who use drugs during the pandemic, including their experiences navigating health services, their personal goals, and their areas of greatest need, in their own words.

Many people shared their concerns about the unpredictability of the drug supply, increased isolation, and mental health challenges increased anxiety about and likelihood of overdose. As one Michigan man stated, “I don’t use with anybody else anymore, I used to use with other people. I’m now secluding myself from everybody and end up doing more than I should, which has had a negative impact [on me]. And I’m more worried about overdosing now because I’m by myself so no one can help me, and I’ll die.”

Another theme of comments was the work of harm reduction organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, including providing access to sterile syringes and Narcan. One Pennsylvania man explained: “Getting needles was quite hard for a while, but I’ve since found a program that will send them straight to your home, so I’ve been able to get needles way easier now. Initially before I found this access my mental health was spiraling. Not having to worry as much or go to the pharmacy anymore was such a stress reliever.”

People shared their perspectives on innovative programs to deliver medication treatment during the pandemic. As a woman from Washington DC explained, “My clinic has given me two and a half weeks of take-home methadone, so I have more of that in my residence. That has helped me not have to go out as much, which I really appreciate and I think that’s helped a lot of people.”

The report found that the the largest barriers to accessing substance use disorder treatment, harm reduction, or general health services were related to transportation accessibility and the safety of public transportation. As another Pennsylvania man stated, “I had to stop going to the methadone treatment clinic because I didn’t have any transportation. I wish there were a clinic that’s closer than 35 miles away.”

This project was supported by the Bloomberg Opioid Initiative.

Read the report here.


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