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Changing Pattern of Drug Usage Amidst the Pandemic

June 27, 2021
Reviewed by: Lisa Misquith

It’s been more than a year since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the life of every human on the planet. The disruption has been on every front; from economic, to social, to emotional and physical. No aspect of everyday life has been spared. We have been under full lockdown, then partial lockdown and with the second wave hitting us hard here in India, we are back to full lockdown.

While we are fully aware of the many fallouts of the Covid-19 pandemic like lost jobs and businesses, overcrowding of hospitals and overworked doctors, there is one part of society that has faced quite a hit; people who are dependent on drugs and alcohol.

With lockdowns all around the world, borders have been sealed leading to a shortage of drugs the world over. Moreover, during the initial phase of the lockdown, liquor shops were shut all over India, presumably with the hope of getting everyone to quit drinking in one go.

The good news is that many addicts have been forced to seek help because they can’t procure drugs or don’t have money for the current inflated prices of the drugs. In fact, 129,000 drug abusers got themselves admitted or were admitted by their families in 341 government and private de-addiction centres across Punjab from March 23 to June 19, during the lockdown last year. Likewise, de-addiction centres all over India have seen an increase in patients seeking treatment for alcohol dependence.

The bad news is there have been many deaths reported due to withdrawal symptoms. Also, there have been many deaths due to suicide as they were unable to cope without drugs or alcohol and possibly weren’t able to access the mental help they must have needed.

The worst news is that people who are addicted to drugs have found a new way to get high. 

Changing Drug Usage Pattern During Covid-19

The quote, “Where there is a will, there is a way”, seems apt here, although in a negative connotation. People who are addicted to drugs are going to great lengths to ensure that they get their high. Many are shelling out huge sums of money to buy drugs via the darknet. However, not many can afford the current inflated price of drugs and have to look for alternatives.

Alcohol is one of the easiest substances to procure, it is legal and is available during the restricted hours of commerce during the lockdown. Many people are replacing their opioid, heroin or marijuana addiction with alcohol. Alcohol consumption is now on the rise among abusers of illegal drugs. Similarly, there is also a rise in tobacco usage, especially cigarettes. People are smoking more as it still gives some form of high and is still freely available. Many are also smoking to curb the withdrawal pangs to some extent.

The misuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is on the rise. Many drug users are also using benzodiazepines, mixing it with synthetic drugs. The three types of medical drugs that are being misused are Opioids, Central Nervous System [CNS] depressants and stimulants.

Opioids are a type of drugs obtained from the opium poppy plant and are usually used as medicines since they encompass certain chemicals that help provide relief with pain. Prescription opioids are usually given to treat moderate to severe pain.  However, these medicinal drugs also make people feel very relaxed and “high”. A few of the common prescription opioids that are abused are Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Morphine, Codeine and Fentanyl.

Central Nervous System [CNS] depressants include tranquillizers, sedatives, and hypnotics. These medicines create a feeling of calm, bliss, induce deep relaxation and sleep. These are the choice of drugs for abusers who want to withdraw from the world and retreat into their own shell. CNS depressants that are currently in demand are Diazepam, Alprazolam, Zolpidem and Phenobarbital.

Prescription stimulants as the name suggests stimulates the brain and helps increase attention, energy and alertness. They are popular with people who want to get extremely high and have unlimited energy. In fact, in popular lingo, they are also called Speed or Uppers as they give a feeling of “intense rush”. The most common prescription stimulants that are currently being misused are dextroamphetamine, dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination product and methylphenidate.  

As drug abusers are seeking this high during this stressful time of the Covid-19 pandemic, they will go to any lengths, from getting a fake prescription note to stealing these medicines from their family, friends and acquaintances. 

The Future of Drug Consumption During Covid-19 Pandemic.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) shared its latest report on June 26, 2020, during the event of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking or also known as World Drug Day.

The UNDOC was established in 1997 and plays an important role in helping their member states fight against drug mafia, crimes and terrorism. As per their report, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the supply of drugs around the world. In some cases, drug production has been dipped due to the unavailability of certain resources and in some cases, shipments of drugs have been hampered due to the closing of international borders. However, drug traffickers are increasingly using maritime routes as air and land routes are blocked.

In India, as soon as the lockdown restrictions were eased, there has been a spike in the smuggling of drugs, allowing drug users to once again access these drugs, albeit at a higher price due to the greater risk involved. Furthermore, continued lockdown is leading to stockpiling of drugs, and once the lockdown is lifted there will be an over-supply of drugs which may lead to rising in the number of drug users and possible overdose of drugs.

In closing, India’s drug problem is not over in spite of the Covid-19 restrictions. Drug users have simply changed the substance they are abusing and are still trying to find ways to beat the system. Also, once the pandemic is over, they may resort back to their usual drug abuse patterns.

The only hope is for the government to impose tighter restrictions on the sale of OTC drugs and prescription medicines. Furthermore, friends and family members of the drug abusers need to be more proactive in helping them find all the help they can get to beat this addiction. It is truly an opportune time to beat this disease.