BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 pandemic poses significant challenges to people with opioid use disorder (OUD). As localities enforce lockdowns and pass emergency OUD treatment regulations, questions arise about how these changes will affect access and retention in care. In this study, we explore the influence of COVID-19 on access to, experiences with, and motivations for OUD treatment through a qualitative analysis of public discussion forums on Reddit.
METHODS: We collected data from Reddit, a free and international online platform dedicated to public discussions and user-generated content. We extracted 1000 of the most recent posts uploaded between March 5th and May 13th, 2020 from each of the two most popular opioid subreddits “r/Opiates” and “r/OpiatesRecovery” (total 2000). We reviewed posts for relevance to COVID-19 and opioid use and coded content using a hybrid inductive-deductive approach. Thematic analysis identified common themes related to study questions of interest.
RESULTS: Of 2000 posts reviewed, 300 (15%) discussed topics related to the intersection of opioid use and COVID-19. Five major themes related to OUD treatment were identified: Concern about closure of OUD treatment services; transition to telehealth and virtual care; methadone treatment requirements and increased exposure to COVID-19; reactions to changing regulations on medications for OUD; and influences of the pandemic on treatment motivation and progress.
CONCLUSION: In the face of unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19, reactions of Reddit opioid forum users ranged from increased distress in accessing and sustaining treatment, to encouragement surrounding new modes of treatment and opportunities to engage in care. New and less restrictive avenues for treatment were welcomed by many, but questions remain about how new norms and policy changes will be sustained beyond this pandemic and impact OUD treatment access and outcomes long-term.
“How will I get my next week’s script?” Reactions of Reddit opioid forum users to changes in treatment access in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic
International Journal of Drug Policy, 92, 103140. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2021.103140.