Barriers to Care Experienced by Patients Who Inject Drugs During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Qualitative Analysis

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Objectives:To identify the barriers to accessing health care and social services faced by people who inject drugs (PWID) during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.Methods:This report is a sub-analysis of a larger qualitative study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with PWID admitted to an academic medical center from 2017 to 2020 for an invasive injection-related infection. Standard qualitative analysis techniques, consisting of both inductive and deductive approaches, were used to identify and characterize the effects of COVID-19 on participants.Results:Among the 30 PWID interview participants, 14 reported barriers to accessing health and addiction services due to COVID-19. As facilities decreased appointment availability or transitioned to telemedicine, PWID reported being unable to access services. Social distancing led to isolation or loneliness during hospital stays and in the community. Recovery meetings and support groups, critical to addiction recovery, were particularly affected. Other participants reported that uncertainty and fear of contracting the virus generated changes in behavior that led them to avoid seeking services.Conclusions:COVID-19 has disrupted health systems and social services, leading PWID to experience unprecedented barriers to accessing and maintaining health and addiction services in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Opioid use disorder management must be understood as a holistic process, and a multidisciplinary approach to ensuring comprehensive care, even in the midst of this pandemic, is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E133-E136
JournalJournal of Addiction Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • coronavirus disease 2019
  • opioid use disorder
  • persons who inject drugs
  • substance use disorder


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