As Australia continues to grapple with COVID-19, the country also has to deal with an ongoing drug abuse problem. The federal and state governments adopted lock-down measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They closed down all non-essential businesses including pubs and clubs, where people sometimes meet to buy and sell illicit drugs.
But instead of helping curb substance abuse, the move seems to have only caused an inconvenience to drug users. People who had a hard time buying illicit drugs merely switched from one substance for another. Some have even found more potent alternatives to the ones they were using before.
Let’s take a look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is causing widespread changes in drug abuse trends in Australia.
Switching illicit drugs for prescription medicines
The coronavirus shutdowns have restricted the availability of many illicit drugs from their traditional sources. Australia doesn’t produce its own supplies of opiates like heroin. Instead the country imports drugs from other places, particularly Southeast Asia.
Because of the disruption in availability, many users will have to switch to other drugs to compensate for low supplies. Two of the most popular alternatives are Fentanyl and Oxycodone. Both drugs make easy choices since they are easier to transport even in very small amounts. They also produce far more potent effects compared to heroin.
Both Fentanyl and Oxycodone use has already been rising in Australia over the last 4 years. The current lock-downs only serve to increase the take-up. The majority of people who use the drugs get their supplies from misappropriated or recycled medical stocks.
In Queensland, authorities discovered several missing medical supplies from hospitals. The drugs were believed to have been stolen by the facilities’ own hospital staff. The theft happened before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it is likely that the drugs will be used to fuel the demand for prescription drugs. Such contraband often make their way to the hands of sellers on the black market.
Buying and drinking more alcohol
Australia saw a surge in alcohol purchases at the start of coronavirus lock-down. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, total spending on alcoholic beverages increased in March 2020. However, the figure later decreased the following month. Research attributes the jump in spending to consumers stockpiling alcohol in anticipation of tighter restrictions.
Studies also show that Aussies were spending more money to buy alcohol goods from bottle shops and other similar stores. On the other hand, they spent less paying for alcohol services at pubs and clubs.
The federal government found a possible connection between total alcohol spending and changes in restrictions. The Department of Health noticed an increase in alcohol spending following an easing of restrictions in June 2020. Meanwhile, alcohol spending in Victoria decreased after the state government reinstated tighter restrictions in July 2020.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education also looked into alcohol sales and use during coronavirus lockdown. The group surveyed 1,045 Australians aged 18 years and over between 3–5 April 2020. The following are some of the results:
- 1 in 5 (20%) said their household bought more alcohol than usual since the start of COVID-19.
- Of these, 70% said they were drinking more alcohol than usual. More than a third (34%) admitted they are now drinking alcohol daily.
- 28% said they drink more alcohol to cope with anxiety and stress.
- 32% said they were concerned about the amount of alcohol they, or a household member is consuming.
You can read more about the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and FARE reports here.
Combining alcohol and other drugs
With the availability of popular illicit drugs starting to become an issue, users have started to turn to more easily sourced alternatives. There’s always the possibility of some users combining drugs with other substances. This often results in more potent and dangerous products known as polydrugs.
By creating polydrugs, drug makers can increase the effects of individual drugs. These drugs can cause users to experience new euphoric highs. For example, some people drink alcohol to intensify the effects of painkillers. However, it also increases the health risks typically associated with illicit drugs.
Buying drugs from unauthorised sellers also caries the same risks as polydrugs. Many of the products found on the black market are unregulated. This means there’s now way of telling what chemicals they contain. These may contain adulterated ingredients or more potent substances like Fentanyl.
The coronavirus pandemic is proving to be one of the biggest public health threats we’ve faced in recent decades. However, it’s far from being the only immediate danger to our health and well-being.
Unless we get the situation under control, COVID-19 could exacerbate our country’s long-time issue with drug abuse. That is something that we cannot afford to let happen.