As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the nation, we have already seen the impact of the virus on a number of businesses, with hospitality industries forced to close and retail businesses swamped by panic-buying. However, these are not the only markets that are struggling due to the crisis.
The illegal drug market in the UK turns over more than £10 billion every year, but with cities and towns going into lockdown, and borders closing all over the world, drug dealers and suppliers are not immune to COVID-19. Whilst the law does not regulate the illicit drug trade, the closing of borders means that moving substances between countries has become more difficult, if not impossible in some instances.
Even drugs that are produced in the UK, such as cannabis and MDMA, are becoming more difficult to move onto consumers, as restrictions on movement make it difficult for dealers to reach customers, and uncertainties in the financial markets are making online dealers rethink the validity of currencies like bitcoin.
We have already seen that people are struggling to think rationally in the face of a global crisis, and stockpiling has become a very real issue across the retail industry. This goes for the illegal drug industry too, as buyers start to stock up on their drug of choice, in the face of potential limitations in the future.
Stockpiling can lead to a host of issues, from demand causing a lack of supply in some areas, to those who are unable to afford to stock up struggling to source the drug that they need. For those suffering from a serious addiction, this could quickly lead to problems with withdrawal. When struggling with withdrawal symptoms, those suffering from an addiction could easily rely on substitutes that they are not used to, causing further risk.
The people who are able to get their hands on large quantities of illicit drugs then face problems with potentially overdosing thanks to having so much on hand.
Whilst, for the time being, there is not known to be any particular drought, in previous shortages we have seen distinct patterns that could offer worrying insights into what is to come. In both the UK and Australia, previous heroin droughts have been accompanied by a temporary fall in deaths, but later followed by a significant increase in deaths as users find and use substitutes such as the synthetic opioid fentanyl.
The illegal drug market is all about profit. Dealers want to ensure that their profits continue whatever the situation, so are likely to replace any drug in short supply with another. If the replacement drug offers a similar potency then this isn’t a problem, but in the case of fentanyl – up to 50 times stronger than heroin – users are significantly more at risk of overdose.
Even if a user does know that they are using fentanyl rather than heroin, titrating a safe dose of fentanyl is far more difficult, even for experienced users.
The US is already struggling with an uptick in deaths due to fentanyl and experts fear that the UK could follow suit. Fentanyl is easier to source than heroin, and is exponentially stronger, meaning that overdoses could rise exponentially.
What Action Should Be Taken?
Public Health England has asked frontline drugs agencies to keep them up to date with changes in the drugs markets, as well as alert them to any drug substitutions they become aware of.
This offers them the chance to put out alerts to those at risk in order to ensure that consumers know what they are taking. However, doing so could be viewed as condoning drug use, which government agencies are loath to do.
Another way to get information out to drug users is through addiction and drug treatment services. The problem here is that the government spending on such services has been brutally slashed year on year, so that these services in the UK are already few and far between, and their reach is minimal. For those not already in treatment, and with the NHS already pushed to breaking point by COVID-19, this information is unlikely to be in reach.
Drug Consumption Rooms
Some experts have voiced a strong belief that now is the perfect time to start introducing drug consumption rooms across the UK. These rooms offer a safe and sterile place for people to take their drugs, with professionals on hand to provide help immediately in the case of an overdose, as well as provide information that drug users may otherwise be unable to obtain.
Whilst the introduction of these rooms has been a point of contention for a long time, with some arguing that it condones drug use, this crisis could be the best possible time to introduce such a measure – keeping overdoses and other drug crises out of NHS hospitals at a time when all available space is needed for coronavirus patients.
Government advice has been released to support those who are reliant on certain substances. Whilst the state is very clear that this is not promoting drug use, it is still important to look after the wellbeing of those who are going to take drugs anyway.
Advice includes telling cocaine users to ensure that surfaces are clean and they use a new straw, rather than a used banknote, to snort drugs; and wiping down drug packages and wraps with alcohol-based cleansers.
The Ocean Recovery Centre is on hand to help anyone suffering with an addiction during this difficult time. We can help you with withdrawal, and provide dedicated, professional help to help you beat your addiction once and for all.
We are monitoring the coronavirus situation and have implemented the necessary safety measures recommended by Public Health England and the Care Quality Commission to allow us to continue to take on new clients throughout this pandemic. Call us now on 01253 847 553 to get your rehabilitation process started today.
Posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 at 12:30 pm in Drugs.