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Why people who use drugs are at risk during COVID-19

People who use drugs may be at greater risk from COVID-19 than the general population.

As well as this, they are at increased risk of overdose if they have contracted the illness.

Ireland’s ageing cohort of opioid users are particularly vulnerable because of their high level of pre-existing health problems and lifestyle factors.

As this is a new virus, we continue to learn about the impact it can have on people who use drugs.

What we know so far:

  1. Risks are increased due to the high level of physical and psychological health issues found among some people who use drugs
  2. People with a history of drug use have a higher rate of chronic respiratory disease (asthma and COPD) than the general population.  Smoking heroin or crack cocaine can also impact on the lungs and breathing meaning people who use these drugs are at increased risk
  3. The main life-threatening effects of any opioid, such as heroin, are to slow down and stop a person from breathing. Because COVID-19 can cause breathing difficulties, there may be an increase in the risk of overdose for people. Naloxone is not known to impact on breathing difficulties caused by COVID19
  4. Drug use can weaken the immune system making  all people who use drugs at greater risk to illness from COVID-19
  5. Tobacco smoking and nicotine dependence are very common among some groups of people who use drugs and may increase their risks of experiencing more negative outcomes with COVID-19
  6. Crowded environments such as some drug taking settings increase the risk of exposure to COVID-19
  7. People who use drugs have decreased access to health care and housing. They may find it difficult to present to medical settings for testing or treatment due to stigma and shame.
  8. People are at risk of drug overdose from using alone in isolation
  9. People may experience withdrawal if in isolation or if there is difficulty accessing substances
  10. Travel restrictions could impact on the chain of supply of drugs. People may have difficulty contacting their regular source or their drug of choice may not be available. Changes to the market could also impact the contents available on the Irish market. 

It's safer not to use drugs and it is an extra risky time. If you do, see our harm reduction information about COVID-19 here


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The HSE and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) ask students to think about drug safety measures when using club drugs
Harm reduction messages from the #SaferStudentNights campaign.
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