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CDC Updates List of Health Conditions that Can Increase the Risk of Severe Illness from COVID-19

CDC Updates List of Health Conditions that Can Increase the Risk of Severe Illness from COVID-19 to include Substance Use Disorders

New York and Bethesda (May 10, 2021) -- Health officials have released an update that individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) are at a heightened risk for serious complications from COVID-19, and underscored the importance for individuals with SUD and their caregivers to get vaccinated.

Skipping vaccines in general is more risky if you have chronic health conditions like heart disease and respiratory illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can make it harder to fight off infection and make complications more severe. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently updated the list of at-risk underlying health conditions for COVID-19 to include substance use disorders. “Having a substance use disorder (such as alcohol, opioid, or cocaine use disorder) can make you more likely to get severely ill from COVID-19,” according to the CDC.

Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shared at a recent event on the intersection of COVID-19 and addiction: “I cannot overemphasize how extraordinarily important it is for all of us to get vaccinated, and in particular, individuals with a substance use disorder.”

Why is there an increased risk of COVID-19 infection and complications for individuals with an addiction? Chronic substance use can harm or weaken the body, including the immune system, and make an individual more vulnerable to infection. The effect of certain types of substances used may present greater risks as well, particularly opioids, alcohol, nicotine, methamphetamines present greater risks for patients to develop severe illness from COVID-19.

In response, the Addiction Policy Forum and the Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) has launched a team of COVID Vaccine Navigators that can help individuals with an active substance use disorder, people in recovery, practitioners or family members impacted by addiction determine when and where they can get vaccinated and answer questions about vaccines.

There are several ways to access the Vaccine Navigator project for the addiction community:

  • Individuals can submit a support request form and a navigator from our team will reach out to assist you.

  • Call the helpline at 833-301-HELP and a navigator will help. Hours of operation are 9am - 5pm ET, Monday through Friday.

  • Text 833-301-HELP and our navigators will provide resources and support.

CDC COVID-19 Resources:


The Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts (FORE) was founded in 2018 as a private

501(c)(3) national, grant-making foundation focused on addressing the nation’s opioid

crisis. FORE is committed to funding a diversity of projects contributing solutions to the

crisis at national, state, and community levels. FORE’s mission is to support partners

advancing patient-centered, innovative, evidence-based solutions impacting people

experiencing opioid use disorder, their families, and their communities. Through

convening, grantmaking and developing informational resources, FORE seeks to bring

about long-term change. To date, FORE has awarded 41 grants totaling $12.6 million.


The Addiction Policy Forum is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to

eliminating addiction as a major health problem. Created to serve patients and families

impacted by the disease of addiction, the organization works to end stigma, help

patients and families in crisis, improve treatment and prevention, and translate the

science around addiction.

Sources: Foundation for Opioid Response Efforts and Addiction Policy Forum

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