Récapitulatif de rapport de recherche : Effet de la pandémie de COVID-19 sur la consommation d’opioïdes et de substances illicites, et méfaits associés

Overview

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and public health measures put in place to reduce transmission have likely affected people who use opioids and other illicit substances. Reasons for this include potential changes in the supply of these substances and in support systems for people who use them.

A McMaster University team prepared a rapid review to identify, appraise and summarize emerging research to support evidence-informed decision-making. It includes evidence available up to September 10, 2020 to answer the question: What is the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on opioid and substance use and related harms?

This Research Report Round-up presents a summary of the findings. Research Report Round-ups are brief, plain-language summaries of research reports, presented in a user-friendly format.

Read the summary below or download the PDF.

Title and link to report

Rapid Review Update 1: What is the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on opioid and substance use and related harms?

Author(s)

The National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools

Year

September 2020

Location

Hamilton, ON

What this report is about

Public health measures put in place to curb transmission of the coronavirus virus have likely had important negative effects on people who use opioids and other illicit substances. There are many reasons for this, including changes to the supply of these substances and to support systems for people who use these substances.

New strategies were put in place to respond to COVID-19:

  • legislation changes, including to the Canadian Controlled Substances Act, allowing longer prescription length and mail and remote supplying of medications to treat substance use disorders
  • providing or prescribing alternative substances, such as safe supply of pharmaceutical-grade substances
  • provision of naloxone for unsupervised dosing of medications to treat substance use disorders
  • harm reduction education related to safe use in isolation
  • providing supplies for sanitization in harm reduction kits.

Existing strategies were also enhanced or emphasized due to COVID-19:

  • making sure a safe supply of substances are available
  • providing drug safety checking
  • providing sterile supplies
  • sanitizing supplies in harm reduction kits.

It is important to understand the effect of the pandemic on opioid and substance use and related harms. Public health must also develop effective strategies to try to lessen or avoid harm for people who use substances.

Key findings from the report

This rapid review includes evidence available up to September 10, 2020 to answer the question: What is the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on opioid and substance use and related harms?

The following are some key findings:

  • There have been some changes in rates of overdose and substance-related deaths during the pandemic in many jurisdictions, although rates are difficult to compare due to inconsistent indicators (i.e., something easy to measure that helps to identify a concept, such as overdose rate) and measurement approaches.
  • There is little evidence to show that strategies currently in use or suggested for use would lessen or help to avoid the harmful effects of illicit drug use during the pandemic.
  • There is limited evidence on the effects of the pandemic on opioid and substance use and related harms. The evidence that exists has a low grade of overall certainty. Findings are likely to change as more evidence is gathered.
  • Most of the evidence is based on previous experiences during pandemics and similar events:
    • People who use substances may have reduced access to harm-reduction and treatment services.
    • The supply of illicit substances may be disrupted in Canada, which may have affected their availability and cost and increased the risk that these substances may have been tainted.
  • There was no clear pattern of change among different provincial and regional jurisdictions.
  • It is difficult to say whether changes in opioid-related overdoses and deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic were caused by public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

Acknowledgements

This knowledge exchange activity is supported by Evidence Exchange Network (EENet), which is part of the Provincial System Support Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - “CAMH”). EENet has been made possible through a financial contribution from the Ministry of Health (“MOH”). The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of either MOH or of CAMH.

How can this report be used

This report can support the development of public health interventions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It identifies, appraises, and summarizes emerging research evidence to support evidence-informed decision making.

Populations

All populations

Keywords

coronavirus, COVID-19, opioids, illicit substances, substance use, harm reduction, overdose

Contact

McMaster University, nccmt [at] mcmaster [dot] ca 905-525-9140, ext 20450

www.nccmt.ca (English)

www.ccnmo.ca (French)

Language

English