COVID-19 Risk Increased in Individuals with Substance Use Disorders Interview with:

Rong Xu PhD Center for Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery, School of Medicine Case Western Reserve University Cleveland, OH

Dr. Rong Xu

Rong Xu PhD
Center for Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery, School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Chronic use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs is associated with cardiovascular, pulmonary, and metabolic diseases, all of which are also risk factors for COVID-19 infection and for worse outcomes.  Additionally, individuals with substance use disorders are more likely to experience social adversity such as homelessness, decreased access to health care, housing insecurity among others. Based on these, we hypothesis or predict that individuals with SUD are especially vulnerable for COVID-19 infection and adverse outcomes.

In our study, we found that  individuals with substance use disorders, especially individuals with OUD and African Americans with SUD, as having increased risk for COVID-19 and its adverse outcomes What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our study highlights the need to screen and treat individuals with substance use disorders as part of the strategy to control the pandemic while ensuring no disparities in access to healthcare support. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: First, findings from this study, which was based on patient electronic health records and focused on individuals who had encounters with healthcare systems,  need to be replicated in other datasets and other populations.

Second, our study showed that patients with SUD had increased risk for COVID-19 infection and adverse outcomes, however we yet don’t know the exact causes, which could be co-occuring medical conditions associated with SUDs, socio-ecnonomic factors and others. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: This study has implications to healthcare as it relates to expanding testing and making decisions of who might need hospitalizations. Similarly, when vaccine or other treatments become available, this has implication for deciding who is at greater risk. They also highlight the exacerbation of healthcare disparities from COVID-19 driven by social and economic factors that place certain groups at increased risks for both SUD as well as risk and adverse outcomes from COVID-19. Finally, our findings also underscore the importance of providing support for the treatment and recovery of individuals with SUD as part of the strategy to control the COVID pandemic.

No conflict interests.


Quan Qiu Wang, David C. Kaelber, Rong Xu, Nora D. Volkow. COVID-19 risk and outcomes in patients with substance use disorders: analyses from electronic health records in the United States. Molecular Psychiatry, 2020; DOI: 10.1038/s41380-020-00880-7

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Last Updated on September 16, 2020 by Marie Benz MD FAAD