By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

A recent analysis of millions of U.S. healthcare records revealed those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder (SUD) are more likely to contract COVID-19 and to experience worse outcomes caused by the virus.

Investigators performed a retrospective, case-control study of de-identified population-level electronic health record data collected from 360 hospitals and 317,000 providers across all 50 states since 1999. As of June 15, 2020, when the authors performed their analysis, the population included more than 73 million people.

Digging deeper, the researchers found 722,370 patients who had been diagnosed with SUD in the past year, 12,030 patients who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, 1,880 patients with a lifetime diagnosis of SUD and COVID-19, and 1,050 with recent SUD diagnosis and COVID-19. SUD types included alcohol, tobacco, opioids, cannabis, and cocaine. Beyond a COVID-19 diagnosis, the authors also examined related hospitalization and mortality rates.

After adjusting for insurance type, gender, age, and race, investigators noted those with a recent SUD diagnosis were at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 (strongest association for opioid use disorder patients, followed by tobacco use disorder patients). Those with an SUD were more likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID-19.

“The lungs and cardiovascular system are often compromised in people with SUD, which may partially explain their heightened susceptibility to COVID-19,” Nora D. Volkow, MD, study co-author and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement. “Another contributing factor is the marginalization of people with addiction, which makes it harder for them to access healthcare services. It is incumbent upon clinicians to meet the unique challenges of caring for this vulnerable population, just as they would any other high-risk group.”

Read the latest Relias Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic here.