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Survey: COVID-19 Affecting Access to Addiction Treatment and Key Services

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

1 in 3 Report Changes in Treatment or Recovery Support Services Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic

North Bethesda, MD, June 9, 2020 -- Individuals with a substance use disorder (SUD) are finding it challenging to continue needed services during the pandemic, from recovery support meetings, SUD treatment, and naloxone services to reverse an overdose, new survey results indicate.

Addiction Policy Forum conducted a pilot study to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals with a SUD and to inform future research. Results show that more than one in three (34%) of the 1,079 respondents reported changes or disruptions in accessing treatment or recovery support services. Fourteen percent say they were unable to receive their needed services and 2% say they were unable to access naloxone services.

The anonymous survey was conducted between April 27 and May 8, 2020 and disseminated via the Addiction Policy Forum’s nationwide network of patients with SUD, individuals in recovery, and family members impacted by SUD. The majority of participants were white, non-Hispanic (88%), female (66%), over the age of 26 (95%), and college-educated (55%).

Nationwide, 4% of respondents report an overdose has occurred since the pandemic began. The South Atlantic region reported the greatest number and percent of overdoses. The region includes Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and the District of Columbia.

Twenty-four percent of respondents indicate that their/their family member’s substance use has changed because of COVID-19, with 20% reporting increased substance use.

Respondents cited the lack of access to in-person 12-step or support group meetings as a primary concern. Comments on changes to services included: “The closing of Recovery drop-in, peer-run

recovery centers. No ability to socialize/connect or get peer support.” Another respondent commented: “Meetings have all been reduced to Zoom and it has had an impact on feeling supported by peers and getting a good recovery message.” A family member participant added, “the inability of attending meetings in person and meeting a sponsor in person has been very difficult for my child.” Another respondent said: “Doing online meetings are not the same as going to a meeting.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic creates significant challenges for those struggling with addiction,” said Jessica Hulsey, president of the Addiction Policy Forum. “From patients in treatment, to those in recovery to family members and caregivers, too many are struggling with disruptions in care. The data show that the presence of continuous stress and triggers and absence of coping and support mechanisms are coinciding with emotional distress. This may equate to an increase in relapses and overdoses nationwide.”

In addition, SUD patients and families are also feeling the emotional effects of the pandemic. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of all respondents say they have noticed changes in their emotions since the pandemic began, a concern that is especially prevalent among those who have experienced disruptions to their treatment or recovery support services (87%). The top emotions reported by respondents are worry (62%), sadness (51%), fear (51%), and loneliness (42%).

“This research provides insight into the experiences of patients and impacted individuals on the emotional and health consequences of COVID-19, including overdose rates and barriers in safely accessing care during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to enhance services to better meet the needs of our community,” added Hulsey.

This survey was deployed rapidly to gain a snapshot of the impact of COVID-19 on the SUD community. Broad interpretation of this survey is limited by participant characteristics and additional research is needed. More studies are needed that include larger, representative samples to uncover individual, social, cultural, economic, geographic, and other factors that interact with both SUD and COVID-19.

The study was conducted with contract funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. For more on the results, please visit:


About Addiction Policy Forum

Addiction Policy Forum is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating addiction as a major health problem. Our national headquarters are located in North Bethesda, MD with resources and services in every state. More information on our mission and projects is available at our website,


Haley Tenney

M: 309.229.0705



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