Since the UK entered lockdown in March 2020, restrictions on the way we live and work have affected everyone. Lockdown has had an adverse impact on those with existing substance misuse issues, those in recovery trying to access drug and alcohol treatment, recreational users who are reportedly taking more drugs more frequently and those using prescription drugs who are exceeding the recommended dose.
This blog aims to discuss the effects lockdown and isolation have had on drug misuse within the UK.
The Effect of Lockdown
Lockdown restrictions have led to many people feeling isolated from their family and friends. Isolation can lead to loneliness and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. Since lockdown the misuse of certain drugs has increased, it is thought that drugs are being used as a coping mechanism or due to boredom.
We have already seen that despite the total recorded crime dropping by a quarter during lockdown, drug offences have risen by 27%.
Since lockdown began, the charity Crew 2000 has surveyed hundreds of recreational drug users. More than 50% have reported taking drugs more often, and in bigger quantities, than before the pandemic.
Changes in Drug Misuse
Lockdown has led to a change in the type of illicit drugs that are being misused. While the use of prevalent drugs such as cocaine remains high, the use of stimulants, or ‘party drugs’, such as MDMA have declined.
Research by the Global Drugs Survey also found that cannabis use was up. They found that 43.8% of UK respondents have increased their consumption of cannabis products since COVID-19 restrictions were imposed.
The misuse of illegal drugs are not the only concern. In our past blog ‘Prescription or Problem’ we talked about the scope of the problem surrounding prescription drugs prior to lockdown. As illicit drugs have become harder to obtain and mental health conditions have risen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so has the potential for prescription drug misuse. Painkillers, antidepressants, sedatives and anti-epileptic drugs to relieve pain are all highly addictive and easy to access. Dependency can lead to impaired judgment, drowsiness and serious withdrawal symptoms.
The increase in drug misuse has led to a strain on addiction centres. United Kingdom Addiction Treatment (UKAT) reported in early June that they have seen a stark rise in the number of people using its 24/7 online chat tool, as people who are struggling with life at home, who are turning to alcohol and drug misuse, are reaching out for help.
Research by Action on Addiction also suggests that a significant number of people who were recovering from addictions have suffered a relapse in recent months.
At Lextox we are constantly monitoring the market and our own test results to better understand trends and changes in drug misuse so we are able to respond to this.
We test for a wide variety of drugs and substances of misuse in hair, which provides a unique window of detection covering months, rather than days that urine or oral fluid analysis can show. The full list of drugs we are able to test for can be found here.