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A Surg in Drug Abuse: The Pendamic’s Unaccounted Side-effect

With Coronavirus cases resurging around the world, it’s time to address the pandemic’s hidden demons. It’s a well-known fact that the pandemic took its toll on mental health as much as it did on the physical one. Thus, people from around the world sought drugs as a refuge from the tiring reality, and numbers surged in alarming patterns. 

“There’s sort of a perfect storm of factors that we know increase drug use,” says William Stoops, Ph.D., a professor of behavioral science, psychiatry, and psychology at the University of Kentucky. “People are more stressed and isolated, so they make unhealthy decisions, including drinking more and taking drugs.”

Between anxiety, depression, and COVID-19

Reports from all around the world have provided evidence for the increase in mental health illness during and after the lockdown. Moreover, though the world is trying to make it through the steady path of recovery, the road is still long ahead. The collapse of economies, the lingering fears of the unknown, a fatal, fast-spreading virus, and continuous isolation are, understandably, causing stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Drugs and substance usage offers an escape from all these unwanted feelings.

A Deeper Connection

On the other hand, the pandemic is causing all kinds of problems, worsening the problem. For example, with borders closing, the product supply decreased while the prices increased. Thus, instead of taking a timid kind of drug, a person would seek the stronger, more available kind.

Furthermore, with the health sector overwhelmed and understaffed, many services are no longer available. This causes an increase in self-medicating. “Physicians have been concentrating largely on COVID-19, and medical systems are overwhelmed, so people can’t always access the care they need,” says Stoops. “There’s also a stigma around substance use disorder that keeps people away from treatment, and even more so during a pandemic.”

An Increasing Problem Among Regulars

The International Journal of Drug Policy reported a high increase in the drug usage intake among regulars, as well as a spike in fear of relapse or overdose. In the survey, three-quarters of the participants admitted to increasing their drug intake. Moreover, half of the participants revealed that they either started using for the first time or relapsed during the pandemic, 

“People who use drugs have been negatively impacted by the pandemic in ways that put them at greater risk for experiencing substance and health-related harms, including overdoses and a decreased ability to mitigate risk behaviors,” said lead study author Dr. Farihah Ali in a press release. “These findings warrant the need for increased accessibility of safe supply programs, take-home naloxone, and drug-testing kits, as well as novel approaches to help ensure they have the necessary tools available to make informed choices and mitigate risk.”

A surge in overdose

The pandemic also directly contributed to a surge in overdoses. According to ODMAP, a reporting system, overdoses in 2020 in the US increased by 18% since last year. The increasing trend is ongoing, with 40 U.S. states reporting an increase in opioid-related mortality incidents. 

Moreover, the sudden disruption in the street supply of drugs is one of the main drivers behind these numbers. Not only did the pandemic cause street drugs scarcity, but it also made them more expensive and of unknown origins. In British Columbia, during the first four months of the pandemic, the number of illicit drug overdose deaths increased by 72%. 

On the other hand, isolation also plays a part in the severity of overdoses. “Using alone itself was a real concern. We know that people who use alone are more likely to die of an overdose, in part because there is nobody there to administer naloxone or call emergency services,” stated Tara Elton-Marshall, Ph.D., an independent scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Institute for Mental Health Policy Research. 

Business as usual

Despite the initial pandemic setbacks, the UN reports that drug trafficking is continuing stronger than ever. In 2020, almost 275 million people used drugs, with cannabis leading the charts. The pre-pandemic drug market evolved, using technology and cryptocurrency payments to facilitate transactions.

 Ironically, the pandemic’s contactless regulations helped the market stand back at its feet. With online sales leading the market, global drug consumption increased. Thus, major drug markets on the dark web are now worth almost $315 million annually, according to UN findings.

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