Vulnerabilities of People with Substance Use Disorder at All Time High

Vulnerabilities of People with Substance Use Disorder at All Time High

During the Covid-19 epidemic in the United States, we have already discussed new studies linking Covid-19 to record overdose numbers. We have also seen research suggesting that the last year before Covid-19 hit was the worst ever year on record for overdoses and overdose deaths. Now a newer study in the journal of rural health has linked Covid-19 to an assortment of new vulnerabilities that people with substance use disorder are at risk from. We have seen closures in the Alabama rehab and recovery space already, and we know that delivering health care is the most difficult it has ever been, especially when treating detox patients, who are often showing symptoms of being sick due to withdrawal syndrome. We must discuss the other lesser-known factors that are putting rural communities at risk during Covid-19.

I recently wrote about a bill that was traversing the Alabama State Senate which would increase access to needle exchanges in the state. Alabama has a dark history of arresting and prosecuting non-violent criminals who need drug treatment, but a state-wide needle exchange program would certainly be a step in the right direction. The researchers have some specific reasons that needle exchanges need to be added to the options of people looking for Alabama rehab and detox centers for family or friends. Here is a quote from the authors of the study,

“Reliable trusted information may only be accessed through contact with local syringe service provider (SSP) staff. Contact with SSP staff during this time may become limited due to social distancing and due to the already limited number of SSPs available in rural communities. Thus, people who use drugs may be less able to comply with CDC guidelines for minimizing risk.”

The researchers argue that access to reliable information during a natural disaster is of paramount importance and that both rural people and people who use drugs are at an increased risk of having incomplete or bad information during Covid-19. The researchers cited data that both rural people and people with substance use disorder are likely to have issues with reliable internet. I also recently cited data that these same groups of people are struggling to pay bills and gather the needed materials for basic survival. In Alabama rehab clinics, health workers are tirelessly helping patients while also trying to screen patients for Covid-19 and keep effective social distancing measures in place wherever possible. It does look like this is a case where Alabama helped themselves a small amount by enacting a bill to open needle exchanges in that state for the first time, unfortunately, that small pilot program is not having a large impact in the current crisis. 

By T.A. Cannon (Contact me at



“COVID‐19 During the Opioid Epidemic – Exacerbation of Stigma and Vulnerabilities” Wiley D. Jenkins et al. Retrieved from