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Excessively use of tobacco, alcohol, opioid, cannabis and cocaine linked to COVID-19 susceptibility

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Washington, Sep 15: People with substance use disorders (SUDs), including those who excessively use tobacco, alcohol, opioid, cannabis, and cocaine, are more susceptible to COVID-19 and its complications, according to a study which assessed the electronic health records (EHR) of millions of patients in the US.

Excessively use of tobacco, alcohol, opioid, cannabis and cocaine linked to COVID-19 susceptibility

The research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Psychiatry, noted that health care providers should closely monitor patients with SUDs, and develop action plans to help shield them from infection and severe outcomes.

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According to the scientists, including those from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the US, while individuals with an SUD constituted 10.3 per cent of the total study population, they represented 15.6 per cent of the COVID-19 cases. They said the EHRs were de-identified to ensure privacy.

The findings revealed that those with a recent SUD diagnosis on record were more likely than those without to develop COVID-19, an effect which the scientists said was strongest for opioid use disorder, followed by tobacco use disorder. They said individuals with an SUD diagnosis were also more likely to experience worse COVID-19 outcomes (hospitalisation and death) than people without an SUD.

"The lungs and cardiovascular system are often compromised in people with SUD, which may partially explain their heightened susceptibility to COVID-19," said study co-author Nora D. Volkow from NIDA.

"Another contributing factor is the marginalisation of people with addiction, which makes it harder for them to access health care 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," Volkow added.

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In the research, the scientists assessed the health data of over 73 million patients, of which over 7.5 million had been diagnosed with an SUD at some point in their lives, the researchers said. They said slightly more than 12,000 of the patients were diagnosed with COVID-19, and about 1,880 had both an SUD and a COVID-19 diagnosis on record.

According to the research, the complicating effects of SUD were visible in increased adverse consequences of COVID-19. It noted that hospitalisations and death rates of COVID-19 patients were all elevated in people with recorded SUDs compared to those without.

According to the researchers, the findings underscore the need to screen for, and treat SUDs as part of the strategy for controlling the pandemic. They said further research is needed to understand how best to treat those with SUDs who are at risk for COVID-19, and counsel on how to avoid the risk of infection.

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