This project set out to understand the health impacts of the social response to COVID-19 on PWUD, including COVID transmission risks and drug-related harms for this group. The specific objectives were to determine how the social response to COVID affected:

1.Scottish illicit drug distribution and social drug use patterns;
2.availability of harm reduction services;
3.provision of addiction treatment medication and services and impacts on people in recovery.

•PWUD did not seem to be at increased risk of contracting COVID, despite pre-existing health conditions in some.
•A digital divide was evident in the drug markets with those able to purchase party drugs and social drugs online being largely unaffected.
•Local markets used by more marginalised people were strained which forced people to travel further to purchase drugs, or to use unfamiliar suppliers.
•There was increased risk associated with drug use as quality was perceived as being less reliable and people reported trying different drugs and routes of administration.
•Specific initiatives to ensure access to harm reduction services as part of the pandemic response were used and valued by participants e.g. access to substitute prescribing and injecting equipment.
•For people in recovery the significant reductions in recovery-focused activities increased risk of relapse.
•Regarding general healthcare, it was dental health that was particularly missed.


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Cite as

Matheson, C., Parkes, T., Schofield, J., Dumbrell, J., Browne, T., Bancroft, A. & Galip, I. 2020, Understanding the health impacts of the COVID-19 response on people who use drugs in Scotland (PWUD): Implications for COVID-19 infection and transmission among this group and impacts on harm reduction, treatment and recovery, Rapid Research in COVID-19 Programme. Available at: https://www.research.ed.ac.uk/en/publications/160c81c1-2074-4ef4-8bbf-614abe522896

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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