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Surprise expressed at low number of Covid-19 cases among people who use drugs

By Mindo - 18th Sep 2020

Doctors working in opioid substitution clinics (OST) have been expressed surprise by the low number of Covid-19 cases among people who use drugs.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), which collects data on “homeless/those with addictions” there have been four outbreaks comprising15 cases among this cohort.

The HPSC does not collect data on the number of individual Covid-19 cases in this patient group outside of outbreaks.

However, according to doctors working in the area the number of cases has been “surprisingly” low.

Dr Bobby Smyth, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with the HSE Adolescent Addiction Service, said he understands there has been a “very small number of cases amongst adult clients”.

“Hopefully, the fact that the service succeeded in continuing to provide core aspects of treatment to clients, while adhering to public health advice on strategies to minimise Covid transmission in clinic settings, contributed to this.”

Dr Garrett McGovern, a Dublin-based GP specialising in substance abuse, works in several drug clinics and community based programmes in the city centre.

He said he has been “blown over” by the low number of Covid-19 cases among people who use drugs.

There has been “very low number of cases contracting Covid-19, ” he said.

Due to the complex healthcare needs and conditions among people who use drugs, doctors had expected patients to contract the virus in high numbers.

But “the opposite happened”, he said, “we have seen very little Covid among this group, you could count on one hand the numbers”.

He continued: “We can’t explain it. It’s surprised us as we thought we would be inundated with cases”.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA),  because of the high prevalence of chronic medical conditions among drug users many are at particular risk for serious respiratory illness if they get infected with Covid-19.

“Risks are increased by the high level of physical and psychological comorbidity found among some people who use drugs, the fact that drug problems are often more common in marginalised communities, and the stigmatisation that people who use drugs often experience.

“The current public health crisis raises serious additional concerns for the wellbeing of people who use drugs, ensuring service continuity for those with drug problems, and the protection of those offering care and support for this population.”

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