Increased HIV testing in people who use drugs hospitalized in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2021 May:124:108266. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2020.108266. Epub 2021 Jan 6.


People who use drugs (PWUD) often experience barriers to preventative health care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, due to lapses in harm reduction services, several public health experts forecasted subsequent increases in diagnosis of HIV in PWUD. As many inpatient hospitals reworked patient flow during the COVID-19 surge, we hypothesized that HIV testing in PWUD would decrease. To answer this question, we compiled a deidentified list of hospitalized patients with electronic medical record indicators of substance use-a positive urine toxicology screen, prescribed medications to treat opioid use disorder, a positive CIWA score, or a positive CAGE score-admitted between January, 2020 and August, 2020. The outcome of interest was HIV test completion during inpatient hospitalization. The study used logistic regression to examine associations between type of substance use and receipt of HIV test. The study grouped substance use type into four groups (1) opioids (oxycodone, fentanyl, or other opiates) or opioid use disorder treatments (methadone, buprenorphine, naltrexone); (2) stimulant use (cocaine or amphetamines); (3) alcohol use (presence of a positive CAGE or CIWA score or alcohol present on toxicology screen); and (4) benzodiazepine use (benzodiazepines present on toxicology screen). The proportion of PWUD who were tested for HIV increased from 10.4% in January, 2020 to 28.2% in April, 2020 and back down to 12% in August. Notably, there was an inverse trend over time for number of people hospitalized with drug use, from 259 in January to a nadir of 85 in April, and then up to 217 in August, 2020. Contrary to our hypothesis, HIV testing increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we discuss explanations for this finding. The decrease in HIV testing post-pandemic peak is a reminder that we must work to develop interventions that lead to sustained high rates of HIV testing for all people, and especially for PWUD.

Keywords: COVID-19; HIV; HIV testing; Substance use disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use
  • COVID-19*
  • Cocaine
  • Fentanyl / adverse effects*
  • HIV Testing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Massachusetts
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / rehabilitation
  • Time Factors


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Buprenorphine
  • Cocaine
  • Fentanyl