Drugs in the Time of COVID

There are various reasons why addictions start. In the case of nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs, these substances impact the way you feel, both mentally and physically. These feelings are usually euphoric and give rise to a powerful desire to utilise the substance over and over.

An addiction to something means that not using it results in withdrawal symptoms or a ‘low’ feeling. Given how unpleasant this is, it becomes easier to continue having or using what you long for, creating a vicious cycle.

An addiction is out of control when you require more and more of it to satisfy a hankering and get the ‘high’ you’re looking for.

How COVID-19 Has Affected Drug Use

Since the start of the national COVID-19 lockdown, Release has conducted a public, online survey meant to investigate how individuals are purchasing their drugs. The goal of this survey, which is available to anybody living in the United Kingdom over 18 years old, is to find out the impact that the coronavirus and consequent restrictions have had when it comes to purchasing illegal substances.

In the same manner that the coronavirus has greatly affected all facets of our daily lives, it is within the bounds of reason that with lockdowns and worldwide restrictions on movement, the drug industry will also be affected.

This provisional report shows findings from the first 2,621 replies obtained between the launch of the survey on 9th April 2020 and the 17th September 2020; which indicates drugs bought in anticipation of and during the initial national lockdown, together with acquisitions made during the easing, and subsequent lifting, of that lockdown.

Most of the respondents didn’t report finding the desired drug, or supplier, to be more challenging when relating their experiences to days before the coronavirus outbreak. But challenges in locating the desired drug, and a supplier, were reported often as the initial national lockdown eased, which was an observation synonymous with a supply shortage.

Over 1 in 10 purchases were made through the darknet. Of these acquisitions, 13% of users hadn’t used the darknet to purchase drugs prior to the pandemic, and more than a quarter of the sample said they planned on using the darknet to purchase drugs if need be, showing a change to darknet markets prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Also, reports of the pricing being higher than before the pandemic were more common as compared to reports of prices remaining the same or plummeting. As the initial lockdown eased and lifted, higher prices were reported – an observation matching with supply shortages.

Many of the respondents stated that the purity of their acquisition stayed the same (and for some, increased). This matches with suppliers responding to the shortages in drugs by raising prices and perhaps minimising deal-sizes, as compared to utilising adulterants to help in bulking out products.

Acquisition of cannabis products was reported throughout the course of the pandemic (7 in 10 purchases in total), as expected. We recorded infrequent purchases of ecstasy/MDMA and other drugs affiliated with partying/going out – matching with fewer chances to socialise because of pandemic-related restrictions.

Safety Issues

Almost 62% of drug acquisition done during the lockdown adhered to the government recommended social distancing guidelines as reported by respondents. There’s also evidence indicating that suppliers employed additional safety measures, like those used by licit markets (for instance, disinfecting cash and accepting card payments), to help prevent virus transmission during the transaction.

Drug addiction therapy is available to anyone who needs it.