Substance use has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The deadly combination of a national epidemic and a global pandemic has led to widening health disparities, increased psychological trauma, physical trauma, and grief that will likely persist over the next decade or more. This literature synthesis addresses key findings regarding the prevention, assessment, and treatment of substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic, negative sequelae associated with public health recommendations during the pandemic and a forecast for the future. An example of how grassroots community organizations can rapidly pivot to ensure clients’ needs are being met is also provided. Policy implications of current and predicted challenges are also discussed to provide context for further research.

Key Take Away Points

  • Substance use has been exacerbated across all regions by COVID-19 and both have been inadequately addressed by our public and private healthcare systems as well as community organizations and partnerships that are struggling to meet demands with inadequate funding, outdated legislation, and overtaxed human resources.
  • Worsening health disparities and health outcomes could be mitigated with the implementation of comprehensive evidence-based strategies to build the necessary infrastructure and prepare for and enhance readiness for disasters.
  • Negative sequelae of substance use and COVID-19 public health measures have led to increased incidence of domestic violence, suicide attempts, and psychological symptoms.
  • Prevention measures need to be implemented throughout the U.S. to prevent increasing substance misuse and to address the negative consequences arising from social distancing and other public health measures.

Author Biography

Dr. Rebecca A. Bates is a family nurse practitioner with over a decade of experience offering primary care services for vulnerable populations, including individuals who are homeless, immigrants, uninsured, and experiencing substance misuse. As a project manager, she has been responsible for implementation of two HRSA integrated care grants. She is also employed at A Division for Advancing Prevention and Treatment (ADAPT) within the Center for Drug Policy and Prevention at the University of Baltimore. In this role she coordinates and provides essential training and technical assistance services in the implementation and evaluation of substance use prevention strategies to High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) throughout the U.S. Dr. Pam Imm is a community psychologist with extensive experience in the areas of prevention program development, program evaluation and applied prevention research. She is a co-author of the Getting to Outcomes ® accountability model which was developed with support from SAMHSA and now distributed by the RAND Corporation. Dr. Imm continues to consult with local, state and national agencies including health foundations. In 2015, the American Psychological Association awarded Dr. Imm the Distinguished Contributor to Community Psychology Practice. She is currently affiliated with the Wandersman Center as a senior research associate and is a founding member of The Courage Center, a recovery community organization in Lexington, South Carolina.