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Researchers to explore the impact of COVID-19 on people who inject drugs 

21 May 2020 

A new study by researchers at the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol will explore how coronavirus is impacting on people who inject drugs and how drug treatment services can adapt to support them.

Syringe and drugs

People who inject drugs are likely to find it difficult to self-isolate and may be in contact with other high-risk individuals, such as drug dealers, making transmission of COVID-19 extremely likely. 

They are also at high risk of drug related illnesses such as hepatitis C, HIV and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which may put them at risk of more severe infection if they contract the virus.

At the same time, social distancing has forced changes to the provision of drug treatment and harm reduction programmes, which may make them more difficult to access and lead to increased risks from drug use. 

The researchers will conduct telephone interviews with people who inject drugs in Bristol to understand the effects of recent service changes and the challenges they pose. 

The knowledge generated will lead to a better understanding of the needs of people who inject drugs during the pandemic. This information will be fed back to treatment providers and local government to adapt current provision and reduce the impact of COVID-19 on this group.

Dr Lindsey Hines, Senior Research Associate at the University of Bristol and study lead, said: “People who inject drugs face multiple risks from COVID-19. This group already experiences many health and social inequalities, with greater risk of illness, infection and early death compared to the general population. They are also more likely to experience stigma, issues accessing health care and homelessness. These risks are likely to increase due to the pandemic. 

“We will be working with Bristol Drugs Project to understand the challenges people who inject drugs are experiencing and to help to adapt service provision.”

The research is funded by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research

Find out more about our COVID-19 research.


Further information 

About the NIHR 

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy.

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

See: NIHR's response to COVID-19