Since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the way we live, requiring countries worldwide to take unprecedented measures to protect public health. As with all aspects of life, drug use, harm-related and drug markets have been affected, as are the services established to respond to drug-related problems. During the first weeks of the pandemic, it has EMCDDA two rapid evaluation studies started to investigate the initial impact and implications of COVID-19 to establish.
The EMCDDA European Observatory this month publishes the third in a series of rapid 'trend spotter' studies examining the impact of COVID-19 on the drug situation and responses to it. The report reassesses and revises the findings of two 2020 studies on the effects of the pandemic on drug use and supply, and identifies new trends and developments that may affect policy and practice. Examples include figures about the number of dismantled production locations for synthetic drugs, large seizures of cocaine and rolled up cannabis plantations.
The report examines the situation in EU Member States from June 2020 to February 2021, in particular changes in drug markets, patterns of use, harm and drug services, both in the community and in prisons.
The EMCDDA's trend-spotter methodology examines emerging drug-related trends by rapidly collecting and triangulating data from a variety of sources to enable timely assessment of topics of concern. Specifically for this COVID-19 impact study, the methodology was adapted to online research, taking into account national emergency restrictions for both the EMCDDA team and study participants. The research was intended to be conducted in successive waves.
The new analysis is based on a range of sources, including: three online surveys, eight virtual facilitated groups, data and literature reviews.
Conclusion from the study on COVID-19
The corona pandemic appears to have little impact on European drug markets. This is evident from this new 'Trendspotter' report on the impact of the corona crisis in the EU. In general, it was found that drugs commonly used while going out, such as ecstasy, were used less. However, an increase in stimulant use was again seen in a number of cities during the summer months, presumably as a result of relaxation of restrictions on travel and social events.
In some countries there was more experimentation with psychedelics. The EMCDDA expresses its concerns about an increase in the (illegal) use of benzodiazepines in different groups of users and an increase in crack use in some countries (Belgium, Ireland, Spain, France, Portugal).
The demand for treatment in addiction care lagged behind in most countries in the second half of 2020, possibly due to registration problems and an increase in online care (telemedicine). Furthermore, during the corona crisis, cannabis was found in more and more countries that was contaminated with so-called synthetic cannabis.