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Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on People Who Use Substances: What We Heard [Canada]

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction – 2020

This brief shares findings from a qualitative study that investigated the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who use substances in Canada. For the study, 17 key informants were consulted, including 12 members of the Lived and Living Experience and Families and Friends Working Group coordinated by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), and 5 representatives who provide harm reduction services from one of CCSA’s drug surveillance and monitoring projects. Findings indicate: respondents reported a loss of social connection and supports, as well as an increase in isolation, fear and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic; respondents reported a higher level of concern associated with the drug supply, its quality, degree of contamination, potency and cost, and their ability to access it given physical distancing recommendations; respondents noted many instances of cancelled healthcare and support services and a widespread lack of resources to adequately and effectively provide services; and respondents highlighted how service providers and people who use substances have adapted to the realities of the pandemic and devised creative ways to continue to support each other in spite of the challenges. The report concludes the COVID-19 pandemic exposes the shortcomings that have long existed for people who use substances in the type, access to and availability of healthcare and social services and makes recommendations.