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Substance, use in relation to COVID-19: A scoping review

Background: We conducted a scoping review focused on various forms of substance use amid the pandemic, looking at both the impact of substance use on COVID-19 infection, severity, and vaccine uptake, as well as the impact that COVID-19 has had on substance use treatment and rates.

Methods: A scoping review, compiling both peer-reviewed and grey literature, focusing on substance use and COVID-19 was conducted on September 15, 2020 and again in April 15, 2021 to capture any new studies. Three bibliographic databases (Web of Science Core Collection, Embase, PubMed) and several preprint servers (EuropePMC, bioRxiv, medRxiv, F1000, PeerJ Preprints, PsyArXiv, Research Square) were searched. We included English language original studies only.

Results: Of 1564 articles screened in the abstract and title screening phase, we included 111 research studies (peer-reviewed: 98, grey literature: 13) that met inclusion criteria. There was limited research on substance use other than those involving tobacco or alcohol. We noted that individuals engaging in substance use had increased risk for COVID-19 severity, and Black Americans with COVID-19 and who engaged in substance use had worse outcomes than white Americans. There were issues with treatment provision earlier in the pandemic, but increased use of telehealth as the pandemic progressed. COVID-19 anxiety was associated with increased substance use.

Conclusions: Our scoping review of studies to date during COVID-19 uncovered notable research gaps namely the need for research efforts on vaccines, COVID-19 concerns such as anxiety and worry, and low- to middle-income countries (LMICs) and under-researched topics within substance use, and to explore the use of qualitative techniques and interventions where appropriate. We also noted that clinicians can screen and treat individuals exhibiting substance use to mitigate effects of the pandemic. Funding: Study was funded by the Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Yale University and The Horowitz Foundation for Social Policy. DH was funded by a NIDA grant (R01DA048860). The funding body had no role in the design, analysis, or interpretation of the data in the study.


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