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Over the past few weeks, we've been trying to understand what impact the Covid-19 lockdown has had on people who use drugs.

During Alert Level 4, we surveyed over 120 services and people who were using drugs, and the results are in: We know that although some people may be using more alcohol or other drugs during lockdown, others are using the time to take a break.

We are working with the addiction treatment sector to identify changes as early as possible, so that we can prevent or reduce drug harm. We found:

  • About half of the respondents reported an increase in drug use, commonly alcohol and cannabis. Feeling anxious or bored were the most common reasons given for increases by services.
  • Many services and individuals reported that people were not using or obtaining drugs in a riskier way during this time. But a minority were still engaging in risky behaviours.
  • Drug-related harms, such as aggressive behaviour and negative impacts on mental health were noticed by many services over this time. However, some services noted other clients were progressing well in lockdown, using the time to cut down or stop using drugs altogether.
  • Services have shifted to working with their clients through online video and phone calls. Although for some clients, accessing the technology has proved difficult.
  • About a third of services and most individual responses reported that illicit drugs were harder to get or less available.

Youth services reported some differences. They mentioned supporting their clients with withdrawal more often than adult services. Many young people had higher parental supervision and lower access to substances during Alert Level 4. For some, this caused tension in their household.

As we transition down alert levels, we are recommending that people who have taken a break or reduced their use be cautious about starting to use again. Their tolerance to a drug is likely to have decreased, meaning that it is not a good idea to use the same amount as before. In addition, there is no quality control in an illegal market, and drugs may have been made in a new way, include other substances, or vary in strength.

If you know someone who might need a bit of extra information or support, check out our advice and helpful tips on how to be safer, manage withdrawal, stay in recovery, and support others.

You can download the full reports here:

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