People with substance abuse disorders might be at a higher risk for COVID-19 breakthrough infections, according to a new study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  • The study — published in World Psychiatry — analyzed health records for more than 580,000 fully vaccinated people in the U.S.

Breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated patients with substance use disorders were low overall. But the cases were higher among vaccinated people with substance abuse disorders, according to the institute.

  • The researchers found that underlying health conditions and socioeconomic factors of health, which are common among those with substance abuse disorders, were “largely responsible for the increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 breakthrough infections,” per the NIDA.

People who had substance abuse disorders were also more likely to have a severe reaction to COVID-19, as well as hospitalization and death.

  • “Overall, people with substance use disorder have a high risk of getting COVID-19,” said lead author Rong Xu, professor of biomedical informatics at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. “The risk of breakthrough infection is also higher.”

Pamela Davis, another of the study’s lead authors, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the study is proof that socioeconomic factors and health conditions, which are normally factors of severe COVID-19 without the vaccine, remain a factor today.

  • “These results emphasize that the same risk factors that affected COVID-19 severity before vaccine was available are still risk factors in breakthrough infections,” she told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “This means that care for ongoing conditions aside from COVID-19 remains very important for both patients and physicians to reduce overall disease morbidity.” 
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Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the institute, said it’s important for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

  • “First and foremost, vaccination is highly effective for people with substance use disorders, and the overall risk of COVID-19 among vaccinated people with substance use disorders is very low,” she said in a news release.
  • She added, “We must continue to encourage and facilitate COVID-19 vaccination among people with substance use disorders, while also acknowledging that even after vaccination, this group is at an increased risk and should continue to take protective measures against COVID-19.”