The impact of COVID-19 on access to harm reduction, substance use treatment and recovery services in Scotland: A qualitative study

Joe Schofield, Josh Dumbrell*, Catriona Matheson, Tessa Parkes, Angus Bancroft

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Introduction
People who use drugs (PWUD) are considered vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure and the sequelae of infection due to their social circumstances, health conditions, drug purchasing, and substance use. They can depend on access to services that provide harm reduction, substance use treatment, recovery and support, and general healthcare. Social distancing measures and service restrictions posed significant challenges to the health and wellbeing of PWUD.

Methods
Ethical approvals were secured. PWUD were recruited from voluntary sector homeless and housing, harm reduction, and recovery organisations across central Scotland. Data was collected via semi-structured interviews and analysed using the Framework Method.
Results
Twenty nine PWUD participated and reported mixed experiences of the impacts of COVID-19 lockdown. Several benefitted from policy and practice developments designed to sustain or increase access to harm reduction services. Some PWUD reported improved access to substitute prescribing and/or appreciated being trusted to manage multiple take-home doses. Others noted the loss of regular in-person contact with treatment providers and dispensers. Access to recovery support was challenging for many, especially those unable to access or uncomfortable with online provision who experienced greater isolation. Lack of access to general healthcare services was common, and especially problematic for PWUD with chronic physical and mental health conditions.
Conclusions
This qualitative research describes the impacts of COVID-19 social and service restrictions on PWUD in Scotland. These impacts were anticipated by policy makers and service providers. Effective and acceptable developments were shown to maintain and even increase service provision for PWUD. Developments were geographically dependent and significant challenges remained for many people. The learning generated can inform responses to increase service access and uptake in post-pandemic times.
Original languageEnglish
Article number500
JournalBMC Public Health
Volume22
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2022

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • substance use
  • harm reduction
  • opioid replacement treatment
  • recovery

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