People who use drugs (PWUD) experience many social and health harms and are considered at greater risk of acquiring COVID-19. Little research has examined the impact of coronaviruses either on PWUD, or on services targeted to PWUD. We report the findings of a systematic review of empirical evidence from studies which have examined the impact of coronaviruses (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV-1) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and COVID-19) on PWUD or on service responses to them. Five databases were searched (MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, ASSIA and EMBASE) as well as COVID-19 specific databases. Inclusion criteria were studies reporting any impact of SARS, MERS or COVID-19 or any service responses to those, published between January 2000 and October 2020. Weight of Evidence judgements and quality assessment were undertaken. In total, 27 primary studies were included and grouped by seven main themes: treatment/recovery services; emergency medical settings; low-threshold services; prison setting, PWUD/substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis; people with SUD and HIV; ‘Sexual minority’ men. Overall, research in the area was scant, and of average/poor quality. More robust research is required to inform on-going and future responses to coronavirus epidemics for PWUD.


© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Cite as

Munro, Alison, Booth, H., Gray, N., Love, J., Mohan, A., Tang, J. & MacGillivray, S. 2021, 'Understanding the impacts of novel coronavirus outbreaks on people who use drugs: a systematic review to inform practice and drug policy responses to COVID-19', International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(16), article no: 8470. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18168470

Downloadable citations

Download HTML citationHTML Download BIB citationBIB Download RIS citationRIS
Last updated: 17 June 2022
Was this page helpful?