This opinion piece was published by The Mercury on Friday 15 May 2020 under the title 'Talking Point: Drug supply disruption can have a downside — overdose and stockpiling'
COVID-19 has already had a profound effect on society, in the way that we live, work, get supplies, and access services.
And the drug market is not immune.
We don’t have a road map or a crystal ball that shows us how all of this will pan out, however, we can foresee some areas where things could go very wrong for some individuals, very quickly.
We have heard from many commentators the risks from increased drinking during this time, but what about other drugs?
COVID-19 presents unique risks to people that use all types of drugs. Disruption of the supply of drugs, the urge to stockpile, people living in isolation and the increased potential for loneliness, all of these factors could impact on the frequency, amount and type of drugs that people use and the harms that result.
While a disruption in the supply of illicit drugs might seem like a good thing to some people, we are concerned that it could lead to a rise in overdoses and this is concern is raised again due to the disruption in service provision in this time.
It may become the case that the drugs that people normally use become harder to get. So in this period, people may go into withdrawal and so, as a result, people get what drugs they can. History tells us that if someone cannot access their drug of choice, then they will often substitute with another. We only need to think back to the heroin drought in Victoria and New South Wales in the early 2000s. As heroin became scarce the price of heroin went up, and the purity went down, resulting in many heroin users switch to using cocaine. The risk is when you are substituting and switching drugs, not knowing the strength of the new or different drug you are taking, and your tolerance to it, this can lead to overdose.
A second risk is stockpiling. If you stockpile you run the risk of using more, or more drugs together, at the same time. Most overdoses are the result of people using multiple drugs such as alcohol, opioids (eg morphine, oxycontin, tramadol) and benzos (eg: Valium) at the same time.
A third risk factor is associated with the need to stay at home. While we absolutely support the governments’ position we are also concerned of the impact that isolation may have on already vulnerable people. Using drugs alone very much increases your risk of a fatal overdose because there is no one there to step in and call and ambulance or deliver a life-saving dose of naloxone.
A fourth risk factor is a health system that is already struggling to respond, so this may take the form of an ambulance taking longer to reach you or you may not be able to see your trusted health professional as easily or quickly as before.
With all of the above in mind it is our hope that the impacts of COVID19 are minor, however, if you do know someone who uses illicit drugs, especially those associated with overdoses, please keep an eye on them especially if they start drinking more.
Another option is to go to your local GP and ask for a prescription for naloxone or you can buy it over the counter at a pharmacy. Naloxone is a drug that reverses an overdose and can be used by any member of the community after a conversation with a pharmacist.
Many alcohol and other drug services can still be contacted by phone and a health professional can discuss ways to reduce harm in this time. Common sense advice such as looking out for each other goes a long way in these times however it falls short when people are feeling the need to hide their drug use for whatever reason. This applies to both licit and illicit drug use, alcohol, prescription drugs and street drugs. All of those drugs have the potential to lead to an overdose, leaving families and friends shocked and devastated. Don’t let it be you or someone you know. Get equipped with the information and know your risks, reach out and have a plan in place should an accidental overdose occur.
If you need assistance please phone:
National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline
1800 250 015
Dr Jackie Hallam is policy manager of the Alcohol Tobacco and other Drugs Council Tasmania.
This opinion piece was published by The Mercury on Friday 15 May 2020 under the title ‘Talking Point: Drug supply disruption can have a downside — overdose and stockpiling’.