What We’re Reading: Opioids Prescribed to COVID-19 Patients; Pitfalls of Indoor Social Distancing; IBD Drug, Vaccine Interaction

Patients with long COVID-19 at Veterans Health Administration facilities are being prescribed more addictive medications; indoor social distancing may provide a false sense of security; a drug for inflammatory bowel disease may blunt COVID-19 vaccine efficacy.

Opioid Prescriptions Among Patients With Long COVID-19

Patients who survived a COVID-19 infection but still struggle with lingering symptoms may be at risk of opioid addiction, as health experts warn high levels of painkillers are being prescribed to this population, Kaiser Health News reports. According to a new study, for every 1000 patients with “long COVID-19” at Veterans Health Administration facilities, doctors wrote 9 more prescriptions for opioids than they otherwise would have. In addition, they prescribed 22 more prescriptions for benzodiazepines, which include addictive pills to treat anxiety. In an effort to help reduce opioid overdose deaths that have spiked throughout the pandemic, the Biden administration yesterday moved to lift barriers to prescribing the opioid addiction treatment drug buprenorphine.

Limitations of Indoor Social Distancing

While indoors, 6-foot social distancing may not be enough to curtail transmission of COVID-19, The Washington Post reports. A study that aimed to assess the virus’ airborne transmission risk noted that indoor settings are not all the same and can vary by size, ventilation, air filtration, occupancy, and nature of activities performed. Researchers argued social distancing is not enough to prevent infection and may provide a false sense of security. They concluded that efficient mask use is the most effective safety measure, followed by ventilation, then filtration in indoor settings. As risk increases with the number of individuals in the space and exposure time, authors recommend individuals spend as little time as possible in crowded indoor spaces.

IBD Drug May Inhibit COVID-19 Vaccine Responses

A study published in the journal Gut found that antibody responses of patients who took infliximab—an anti–tumor necrosis factor biologic drug—and who received a single dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine offered adequate protection for only 31.4% of participants. Reported by CIDRAP, the study, conducted in the United Kingdom, assessed COVID-19 infection and vaccination in nearly 7000 patients who have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn disease and ulcerative colitis. Notably, among patients who took infliximab with other immunomodulator drugs, levels of antibodies after 1 dose were even lower, as only 125 of 537 patients met the threshold of a positive antibody test. Among those who previously had COVID-19, sufficient protective antibodies were reported after 1 dose.