Effect of Social Distancing Measures During the COVID-19 Pandemic on People Who Inject Drugs in Thessaloniki, Greece

Author: Effrosyni Tsirogianni Vana Sypsa Sotiris Roussos Despoina Trafali Dimitra Tsiagka Athina Gavalaki Zafiris Papanikolaou Athina Tampaki Dimitrios Paraskevis George Kalamitsis Ioannis Goulis Aggelos Hatzakis Dimitrios

Theme: Clinical Research Year: 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to reduce its impact are expected to affect
disproportionately vulnerable populations, such as people who inject drugs (PWID). Aim of
this study is to assess the impact of social distancing measures during the first lockdown
(March-April 2020) in a sample of community-recruited PWID in Thessaloniki (the second
largest city in Greece).

PWID were recruited to a community-based intervention for HCV infection using RespondentDriven Sampling (ALEXANDROS program). After obtaining informed consent, a subsample of
279 consecutive participants were interviewed on the impact of the pandemic on drug use
and access to harm reduction programs and were tested for SARS-CoV-2 IgG/IgM.

The mean (SD) age of the participants was 40.6 (8.7) years, 88.2% were male, 88.8% were of
Greek nationality and 55.1% were active users (injecting in the past 30 days). Almost all
respondents (96.4%) reported that their quality of life was affected during the pandemic;
76.6% felt isolated, 31.6% felt that no attention was paid to their drug use problem at that
time, 7.4% reported reduced access to health facilities and 7.1% experienced difficulty in
finding food and shelter. The main difficultiesthat they faced during the lockdown were travel
restrictions (21.9%), access to drugs (10.8%) and access to syringes (7.9%). Only one person
reported a previous test for SARS-CoV-2 (0.4%). Of those who were on opioid substitution
programs at that time (30/279), 30% (9/30) reported that the lockdown affected the services
of the program and their participation in it. The prevalence of IgG and IGM antibodies was
2.5% (6/237) and 0.8% (2/237), respectively.

In the first lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PWID were affected with the vast
majority feeling isolated. Drug use appears to have been unaffected during the lockdown and
difficulties in accessing substitution programs were reported.

A Disclosure of Interest Statement
ALEXANDROS program was supported by the Conquering Hepatitis via Micro-Elimination
(CHIME) grant, Gilead Sciences. Additional support was provided by the Organization Against
Drugs (OKANA) and Hellenic Scientific Society for the Study of AIDS, STDs and Emerging

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