People recently diagnosed with substance use disorders were more likely to develop COVID-19 and be hospitalized or die from the virus, according to a National Institutes of Health-funded study released yesterday.

Using millions of non-identifiable electronic health records, the study’s authors found that while patients with a SUD make up 10.3% of the U.S. population, SUD patients represent 15.6% of the nation’s COVID-19 cases; they say this underscores the need for SUD screening and treatment as part of pandemic control. The study indicates that the strongest adverse COVID-19 effects were seen in those with opioid or tobacco use disorders.

“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 and Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse Nora Volkow, M.D. “Another contributing factor is the marginalization 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.”

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