Lockdown had little effect on drug supply

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The first COVID-19 lockdown made little difference to people’s ability to find drugs or suppliers, according to Release. However, supply shortages did lead to difficulties sourcing drugs as the lockdown lifted, says Drugs in the time of COVID. More than one in ten purchases were made on the darknet, the document adds, many for the first time.

Release has been running an online survey to monitor how people were buying drugs since the start of the first lockdown, with the interim report based on more than 2,600 responses between April and September last year. A final report will be published this summer.

More people reported that their drug use had increased since the start of the pandemic than reduced or stayed the same, the report states. More people also reported experiencing increased withdrawal symptoms and non-fatal overdoses, as well as sharing of injection equipment. Overall, cannabis accounted for 70 per cent of purchases, while sales of ‘party drugs’ like MDMA were significantly down as people’s opportunities to socialise were restricted. Suppliers had adhered to government social-distancing measures in more than 60 per cent of purchases, the survey found.

‘At the start of lockdown, many presumed that the drugs market would be severely affected by border closures across the globe and by “stay at home” restrictions, but in fact the majority of respondents to the survey did not report finding a supplier, or their desired drug, to be more difficult compared to before the arrival of COVID-19,’ said lead author Judith Aldridge. ‘We did, however, observe increased difficulties in purchasing drugs as the first lockdown eased and was lifted – this also coincided with reports of increased prices, which would be consistent with supply shortages starting to have an effect on the market. Our results seem to suggest that suppliers were charging more and, in some cases, reducing deal sizes rather than sacrificing the purity of the drug they were supplying.’

‘In addition to the findings that suppliers were adhering to social distancing measures for the majority of purchases made during lockdown, we also saw suppliers adopting measures similar to those adopted by legal markets in order to further prevent virus transmission,’ added co-author and Release policy lead Laura Garius. ‘These measures included suppliers accepting card payments, disinfecting cash, and modifying their packaging. The additional precautions taken by suppliers to protect their buyers challenge longstanding perceptions of suppliers as “morally bereft actors”.’

Report at release.org.uk. Read the report here

Renato Masetti talks to online dealers for his article in our February issue – read ‘Dark Secrets’ here