The official journal of
EUROPAD - European Opiate Addiction Treatment Association
WFTOD - World Federation for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence
Editor: Icro Maremmani, MD - Pisa, Italy, EU
Associate Editors:
Thomas Clausen, MD - Oslo, Norway
Pier Paolo Pani, MD - Cagliari, Italy, EU
Marta Torrens, MD - Barcelona, Spain, EU
Statistical Editor:
Mario Miccoli, PhD - Pisa, Italy, EU

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Heroin Addiction and Related Clinical Problems: 2024, 26, 17

Invisible: An exploratory study of the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people who use heroin

Daniela-Irina Stadniciuc, Marie-Claire Van Hout, Stephanie Kewley, and Georgina Mathlin

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Summary: Background. In 2021, 4,859 drug-related deaths were reported in England and Wales, the highest number since 1993, with opioids accounting for half of the deaths. Acknowledging the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid crisis, this qualitative study aimed to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who use heroin (PWUH) by exploring their experiences of health and wellbeing, access to addiction and harm reduction support services, and experiences with the criminal justice system. Methods. In-person semi-structured interviews were conducted with four adult PWUHs accessing a residential service in a South London Borough. The data was analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. Results. Four themes were developed capturing the multifaceted impact of the COVID-19 pandemic experienced by PWUH: Invisible through the COVID-19 pandemic, Access to services – Still a long way to go, Wellbeing under threat and Crimes not for drugs. Conclusions. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified existing systemic issues faced by PWUH, reinforcing alienation, worsening well-being, hindering access to treatment and support and impairing recovery, with identified push factors toward harmful drug use and contact with the criminal justice system. The study illustrates the imperative of leaving no one behind in public health responses during pandemic times.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; heroin use; South London; criminal justice; public health


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