Posted on: March 21, 2020 at 2:38 pm

The COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic has been significantly more deadly to older adults and people with underlying medical conditions than others. These people are generally considered to be “higher risk” compared to other groups. But now, another group of citizens is potentially vulnerable to the infection: people who smoke, vape, or experience issues with substance abuse.

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“The research community should be alert to the possibility that [COVID-19] could hit some populations with substance use disorders particularly hard,” wrote Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in a blog post. [1]

COVID-19 has been especially deadly because it attacks the lungs. People who vape or smoke tobacco or marijuana may be putting themselves at greater risk.

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“Because it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.”

Individuals who suffer from substance abuse problems are also at a higher risk.

She added: “People with opioid use disorder (OUD) and methamphetamine use disorder may also be vulnerable due to those drugs’ effects on respiratory and pulmonary health.”

Read: 20 Coronavirus Myths Busted

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Vaping and smoking could increase hospitalizations of younger people

Despite the greatest risk of death being among older people, according to a report from the CDC last week, younger adults between the ages of 20 and 44 account for approximately 20% of hospitalizations due to coronavirus. [2] Some experts wonder whether or not widespread vaping and smoking among younger people has exacerbated the impact on younger adults.

“Some of my pulmonary [colleagues] have noted people under 30 [with COVID-19] ending up in hospitals and a couple were vapers,” Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Research Control & Education at University of California, said in an interview with CNN. [3] He notes that there has not been enough research to support the idea that there is a link, but the suspicion is there.

But there is some evidence that informs Glantz’s thinking on the matter. According to a study conducted in China and published in the peer-reviewed Chinese Medical Journal last month, the severity of symptoms related to COVID-19 infections were 14 times higher among people who smoked compared to those who did not smoke. [4] Those who had a history of smoking had a 14% higher risk of developing pneumonia, according to the study.

Read: The Dangerous Impacts of Vaping

Drug abuse may also worsen coronavirus symptoms

Dr. Volkow isn’t concerned only for people who smoke and vape nicotine and cannabis products, but individuals who suffer from substance abuse problems, particularly opioids and methamphetamine. Both drugs are known to have a negative impact on respiratory and pulmonary health.

According to Volkow, opioids have been shown in the past to increase the mortality rate of people with respiratory diseases due to the drugs slowing breathing. “Thus diminished lung capacity from COVID-19 could similarly endanger this population,” she wrote.

Methamphetamine, sometimes shortened to just ‘meth’, is damaging to pulmonary health. A side effect of meth use is the binding of pulmonary tissue, which increases the risk of exacerbated coronavirus symptoms.

And then, of course, there’s the issue of people with substance abuse disorders requiring additional human interactions, like in methadone clinics for example, not to mention the human contact involved with purchasing substances from clandestine sellers. This presents a new challenge in the age of social distancing and isolation being used to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Health officials believe that it’s important for everyone to make an effort to quit smoking and reduce substance use as a preventative measure against some of the worst impacts of coronavirus.

“At a time when people are looking to reduce risk, it’s very sensible to stop insulting your lungs,” Glantz says.

Keep Reading: ‘Stay Away from Other People’ Says Coronavirus Patient from Hospital Bed on Social Distancing

  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2020/03/covid-19-potential-implications-individuals-substance-use-disorders
  2. https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/19/health/coronavirus-age-victims/index.html
  3. https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/20/health/coronavirus-vaping-drugs/index.html
  4. https://journals.lww.com/cmj/Abstract/publishahead/Analysis_of_factors_associated_with_disease.99363.aspx
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Thomas Nelson
Environmental Advocate
Thomas is an environmental advocate currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. In his spare time, he enjoys experiencing the outdoors, raising chickens and ducks, and reading about current environmental issues. Despite slight colorblindness, his favorite color is green.

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