The team of UIPHP researchers has completed an evaluation study of trends in substance use, harm reduction and treatment provision during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ukraine.
The study was conducted simultaneously in Ukraine and Georgia. The results of the study are presented in the full study report available on our website, and were presented on March 25, 2021, at the webinar of the study sponsor, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
The findings of the study confirmed that during the initial stage of lockdown implemented by Ukrainian government, many people who use drugs experienced reduced access to their drugs of choice from usual sources. The use of illicit methadone, the most common drug prior to the COVID-19 epidemic emergence in Ukraine, decreased significantly, and many users began replacing it with medical methadone, purchased in pharmacies using prescriptions from private physicians. Over time, as COVID-19 control measures became less severe, the access to all types of drugs was largely restored. However, the decline of illicit methadone and compensatory increase of medical methadone observed in the initial stages of COVID-19 pandemic did not return to the previous levels when the control measures were lessened.
Availability of harm reduction services decreased in the initial phase of lockdown in March 2020, but the programs managed to adapt quickly and resumed services. Access to opioid substitution treatment (OST) for patients who received it in public clinics was affected by restrictions for public transportation, contributing to a decrease in coverage of OST in our cohort. On the other hand, the Ministry of Health directive to transfer all patients to take-home dosing of OST helped to minimize dropout.
Researchers summarize that should the lockdown be introduced again, the lessons learned in this phase of the pandemic should be used to ensure uninterrupted service provision for people who use drugs.