New NIH research is studying whether interrupted health services during COVID-19 has made it harder to get medicines to prevent HIV. 

New NIH research is studying whether interrupted health services during COVID-19 has made it harder to get medicines to prevent HIV. 

What you need to know

The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted life in many ways. Some of these interruptions may have made it harder for people to get medicines that prevent certain diseases, such as HIV. Getting these medicines is especially important for people who have substance use disorders, and particularly those who inject drugs, because they have a higher risk of contracting or transmitting HIV. NIH is funding a study to find out whether the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in the number of new HIV cases among people who inject drugs.

What is this research about?

Because many people with substance use disorders who inject drugs also share needles, they have an increased risk of HIV. Preventive methods, such as needle exchange programs and medicines that prevent or treat HIV, have helped slow the spread. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many places that distribute new needles or HIV medicines have not been able to operate fully, limiting treatment and support for an at-risk population.

In this new study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University will use information from an ongoing NIH-funded study to find out whether these restrictions to services have caused an increase in HIV transmission among people with substance use disorders who inject drugs.

What will the researchers do?

The researchers will use current and new information from surveys, lab tests, and clinic visits from the AIDS Linked to the IntraVenous Experience (ALIVE) Study to answer three questions:

  • How do COVID-19 restrictions affect mental health, relationships, finances, and HIV control methods?
  • How do these restrictions affect social connections, risky behavior, and patterns of drug use?
  • How likely is it that more people who inject drugs will get HIV because of these restrictions?

Why is this research important?

COVID-19 has caused many interruptions to important health services, but these interruptions can happen during any public health emergency, such as natural disasters. The study will help scientists, doctors, and policymakers understand the links between COVID-19 and other public health emergencies.

The results of this study and others like it will also help with future development of programs to prevent HIV — and other health conditions — when services are disrupted.

Where can I go to learn more?

Research at the Intersection of HIV with Substance Use Disorders amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • In this blog post, Nora Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), discusses NIH-funded research on the effects of COVID-19 on substance use disorders and HIV.

Coping with the Collision of Public Health Crises: COVID-19 and Substance Use Disorders and Addressing the Twin Challenges of Substance Use Disorders and COVID-19

  • In these two blog posts, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., and NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D., discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who have substance use disorders.

HIV and Methamphetamine Use: Double Jeopardy for Transmission of the Novel Coronavirus

  • Researchers explore the effects of methamphetamine use on COVID-19 infections and HIV treatment.

Infectious Diseases and HIV Specialists Call for Urgent Policy Action to Reduce Harms of Injection Drug Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • The Infectious Diseases Society of America recommends policy changes to address HIV infections and substance use disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Genberg, B. L. (2020). When pandemics collide: the intersection of the opioid crisis, COVID-19, and HIV pandemics among people who inject drugs in the United States. Retrieved February 16, 2021, from


News and Stories

Read stories about the efforts underway to prevent, detect, and treat COVID-19 and its effects on our health.

NIH COVID-19 Resources by Topic

COVID-19 research information and resources by topic from NIH institutes and centers