Conceptualizing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on people with opioid use disorder: an application of the social ecological model

Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2021 Jan 7;16(1):4. doi: 10.1186/s13722-020-00210-w.


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unparalleled societal disruption with wide ranging effects on individual liberties, the economy, and physical and mental health. While no social strata or population has been spared, the pandemic has posed unique and poorly characterized challenges for individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD). Given the pandemic's broad effects, it is helpful to organize the risks posed to specific populations using theoretical models. These models can guide scientific inquiry, interventions, and public policy. Models also provide a visual image of the interplay of individual-, network-, community-, structural-, and pandemic-level factors that can lead to increased risks of infection and associated morbidity and mortality for individuals and populations. Such models are not unidirectional, in that actions of individuals, networks, communities and structural changes can also affect overall disease incidence and prevalence. In this commentary, we describe how the social ecological model (SEM) may be applied to describe the theoretical effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD). This model can provide a necessary framework to systematically guide time-sensitive research and implementation of individual-, community-, and policy-level interventions to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individuals with OUD.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; People who use drugs; Social ecological model.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • COVID-19 / rehabilitation
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Pandemics*
  • Prevalence
  • Public Policy
  • Research
  • Risk
  • Social Environment*