Objective: The aim of the study was to describe the impact of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic on people who inject drugs (PWID) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Study design: This is a cross-sectional Unlinked Anonymous Monitoring (UAM) Survey of PWID.
Methods: People who had ever injected psychoactive drugs were recruited to the UAM Survey by specialist drug/alcohol services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. From June 2020, in addition to providing a dried blood spot sample and completing the UAM behavioural questionnaire, participants were asked to complete an enhanced coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) questionnaire. Preliminary data are presented to the end of October and were compared with data from the 2019 UAM Survey, where possible.
Results: Between June and October, 288 PWID were recruited from England and Northern Ireland. One in nine (11%; 29/260) PWID reported testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Fifteen percent (26/169) reported injecting more frequently in 2020 than in 2019; cocaine injection in the preceding four weeks increased from 17% (242/1456) to 25% (33/130). One in five PWID (19%; 35/188) reported difficulties in accessing HIV and hepatitis testing, and one in four (26%; 47/179) reported difficulties in accessing equipment for safer injecting.
Conclusions: Our preliminary findings suggest that PWID have experienced negative impacts on health, behaviours and access to essential harm reduction, testing and treatment services owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Continued monitoring through surveillance and research is needed to understand the subsequent impact of COVID-19 on blood-borne virus transmission in this population and on health inequalities.
Keywords: COVID-19; Infectious disease; Outbreak; People who inject drugs; SARS-CoV-2; United Kingdom.
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