"The post-COVID era": challenges in the treatment of substance use disorder (SUD) after the pandemic

BMC Med. 2020 Jul 31;18(1):241. doi: 10.1186/s12916-020-01693-9.


Background: Citizens affected by substance use disorders are high-risk populations for both SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19-related mortality. Relevant vulnerabilities to COVID-19 in people who suffer substance use disorders are described in previous communications. The COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique opportunity to reshape and update addiction treatment networks.

Main body: Renewed treatment systems should be based on these seven pillars: (1) telemedicine and digital solutions, (2) hospitalization at home, (3) consultation-liaison psychiatric and addiction services, (4) harm-reduction facilities, (5) person-centered care, (6) promote paid work to improve quality of life in people with substance use disorders, and (7) integrated addiction care. The three "best buys" of the World Health Organization (reduce availability, increase prices, and a ban on advertising) are still valid. Additionally, new strategies must be implemented to systematically deal with (a) fake news concerning legal and illegal drugs and (b) controversial scientific information.

Conclusion: The heroin pandemic four decades ago was the last time that addiction treatment systems were updated in many western countries. A revised and modernized addiction treatment network must include improved access to care, facilitated where appropriate by technology; more integrated care with addiction specialists supporting non-specialists; and reducing the stigma experienced by people with SUDs.

Keywords: Addictions; COVID-19; Harm-reduction; Stigma; Substance use disorder; Telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Comorbidity
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / rehabilitation*
  • Quality of Life
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / rehabilitation*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Telemedicine / organization & administration