Opioid addicts are at much greater risk of contracting COVID-19 than the general public, according to a study of more than 73 million patients by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. These patients also had a significantly higher rate of hospitalization and death linked to COVID-19 compared to the general population.

“Newspapers are reporting an increased risk of relapsing and an increased rate of people overdosing and dying, but there is very limited data in terms of how [patients with substance use disorder (SUD)] are faring in terms of risk of getting COVID-19 and, if they do, what happens to them,” NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow said.

People addicted to opioids also have a higher risk of respiratory or cardiovascular problems associated with COVID-19. But they are also more likely than the general population to have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, and obesity. Smoking, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension have already been established as risk factors for the coronavirus.

Dr. Allison Lin, with the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Michigan, said that opioid addicts may be at increased risk for COVID-19 due to behavioral factors or access to health care. “There are parallel epidemics,” she said. “For this particular population, not only are we thinking about COVID-19, but we also need to be thinking about getting them into USD treatment.”

Researchers also found that people who abused other substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis, were also at an increased risk of getting COVID-19 compared to the general public.

Lawyers in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section are representing local governments holding opioid companies accountable for overdose deaths and economic damages in their communities caused by this crisis.

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