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SUD Diagnosis Linked with Increased COVID-19 Susceptibility in Study

October 06, 2020

Patients with a recent substance use disorder diagnosis were found to have a significantly higher risk of developing COVID-19, according to findings in a recent study that was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Opioid use disorder, specifically, presented the greatest risk among all SUDs. The study also found that medications used to treat OUD—methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone—did not increase risk among OUD patients who had been prescribed the medications vs. those who had not.

The study, which was published by Molecular Psychiatry, was authored by:

  • Quan Qiu Wang, Center for Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine
  • David C. Kaelber, Departments of Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and the Center for Clinical Informatics Research and Education at The MetroHealth System in Cleveland
  • Rong Xu, Center for Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery at CWRU’s School of Medicine
  • NIDA director Nora Volkow, MD

The study looked at electronic health records for more than 73 million patients from 360 hospitals nationwide. The population included 7.5 million patients with a substance use disorder (involving alcohol, opioid, tobacco, cannabis and/or cocaine) at some point in their lives. Of that 7.5 million, 722,370 were diagnosed with an SUD within the prior year. Meanwhile, 12,030 patients were diagnosed with COVID-19, 1,880 had a lifetime SUD diagnosis and COVID-19, and 1,050 had a recent SUD diagnosis and COVID-19.

The study found:

  • Among the SUD subtypes, individuals with opioid use disorder were at the highest risk of developing COVID-19, followed by tobacco, alcohol, cocaine and cannabis.
  • Seniors recently diagnosed with SUD were more likely to develop COVID-19 than adults, and African-American patients were more likely than Caucasian patients.
  • Gender did not have any significant effect on COVID-19 susceptibility.

The authors noted several comorbidities frequently associated with SUD—cardiovascular, pulmonary and metabolic diseases, and increased susceptibility to infections—were also COVID-19 risk factors, thus at least partially explaining the heightened risk.

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