People who inject drugs (PWID) are a high-risk group for COVID-19 transmission and serious health consequences. Restrictions imposed in the UK in response to the pandemic led to rapid health and housing service alterations. We aimed to examine PWID experiences of: 1) challenges relating to the COVID-19 public health measures; 2) changes to opioid substitution therapy (OST) and harm reduction services; and 3) perceived effects of COVID-19 on drug use patterns and risk behaviour.
Telephone semi-structured interviews were conducted with 28 PWID in Bristol, Southwest of England. Analysis followed a reflexive thematic analysis.
Concern about COVID-19 and adherence to public health guidance varied. Efforts made by services to continue providing support during the pandemic were appreciated and some changes were preferred, such as less frequent OST collection, relaxation of supervised consumption and needle and syringe programmes (NSP) home delivery. However, remote forms of contact were highlighted as less beneficial and more difficult to engage with than in-person contact. Public health guidance advising people to ‘stay home’ led to increased isolation, boredom, and time to ruminate which impacted negatively on mental health. Lockdown restrictions directly impacted on sources of income and routine. Changes in drug use were explained as a consequence of isolation and fewer interactions with peers, problems accessing drugs, reduced drug purity and reduced financial resources.
This study captures the significant impacts and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of PWID. While rapid adaptations to service delivery to help mitigate the risks of COVID-19 were appreciated and some changes such as relaxation of supervised daily OST consumption were viewed positively, barriers to access need further attention. Going forwards there may be opportunities to harness the positive aspects of some changes to services.

Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier B.V.