By Judith Aldridge et al. / Release

In the same way that the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted all aspects of our lives, it is reasonable to expect that with lockdowns and global restrictions on movement, the drug market will also be impacted. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has stated that there is “a critical need to investigate the impact of these developments on drug markets in order to identify changes that may require an immediate policy or operational response… and to learn lessons about how we might better anticipate emerging threats in the future”.

The availability of controlled drugs - whether bought via online platforms or via face-to-face transactions - will likely be compromised by COVID-19, particularly where those drugs are transported across borders. In anticipation of possible drug shortages, some people who use drugs may ‘stockpile’ their drugs of choice; contributing further to potential shortages. Given a rapid shift to online purchasing of licit goods during the pandemic, we might expect a similar shift in respect to drug purchasing behaviour, with an increase in darknet purchasing.

Since the beginning of the first national coronavirus lockdown, Release has operated a public, online survey designed to monitor how people are buying their drugs. The purpose of this survey, which is open to anyone residing in the UK over the age of 18, is to determine the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic, and corresponding restrictions, have had on buying illegal substances. Release also set up a national ‘Drug Market Monitoring Network’, made up of people who use drugs, harm reduction and recovery activists, as well as people working on the frontline, who continue to regularly report on developments in their local drug markets during the pandemic.i Qualitative feedback from the Drug Market Monitoring Network will be used where appropriate to contextualise quantitative findings from the survey.