On the 24th of June 2021, the United Nations News desk released a report on the rise of drug use worldwide that they believe is fuelled by the Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2021:
- Between 2010-2019 the number of people using drugs increased by 22 per cent, owing in part to an increase in the global population.
- Roughly 200 million people used cannabis in 2019 representing 4 per cent of the global population.
- The number of cannabis users has increased by nearly 18 per cent over the past decade.
- An estimated 20 million people used cocaine in 2019, corresponding to 0.4 per cent of the global population.
- Fentanyl and its analogues now are involved in most of the deaths.
- The number of new psychoactive substances (NPS) found at a global level has been stabilising in recent years at slightly more than 500 substances (541 in 2019) while the actual number of NPS identified for the first time at the global level declined from 213 to 71 between 2013 and 2019.
Paul Spanjar: Owner of the Providence Project in Bournemouth, UK, is also seeing a noticeable increase in call volumes, during the pandemic, and he believes the trend is set to continue even after lockdown restrictions have eased. “The untreated psychological problems so many are experiencing could lead to a tsunami of mental illness. As we emerge from lockdown and adjust to greater levels of freedom in our daily lives, returning to work and school and getting used to the “new normal”, I would encourage anyone struggling with their mental health to reach out and seek help.”
Whilst many factors lead to addiction each year, the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many disparities in our communities,
The socioeconomic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, where millions of people worldwide have been plunged below the poverty line through loss of employment (an estimated 225 million jobs were lost worldwide in 2020) have forced many people to either try to numb their feelings of failure with drugs or even to try put food on their tables through the sale of drugs.
Mental health issues due to being forced into isolation for weeks on end, losing loved ones to Covid-19 and not being able to be with them during their illness, have risen dramatically. Human beings are social by nature and without the stimulation of human interaction to increase dopamine levels, drugs and alcohol have become an attractive alternative. The added knowledge that addiction makes a person more susceptible to Covid -19 due to immunosuppression may also help feed the cycle.
“Covid-19 is a major global health crisis, and one with serious effects on mental as well as physical health. We have seen the combination of social isolation and a lack of human connection drive many to use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Numbers of people seeking treatment have risen sharply since June, with addiction rates soaring by 30%; and many of these dependent alcoholics were only social drinkers earlier this year. The severity of the pandemic and lockdown on our mental health cannot be underestimated.” (Paul Spanjar – https://healthcare-newsdesk.co.uk/covid-19-a-national-mental-health-crisis-leading-addiction-centre-receives-record-enquiries-during-pandemic-addiction-with-rates-soaring-by-30/)
With the healthcare system under strain by the pandemic, there are added challenges to the treatment of individuals with substance use disorders, often addiction care is postponed when it should be re-enforced.
The pandemic has brought about an altered health-seeking behaviour and inadequate access to health care delivery as well as a failure of rehabilitation strategies due to social distancing, these adjusted strategies include Mutual Aid Groups (Support Groups – AA, NA, CA etc) that are not allowed to meet face to face in group settings, rather people with addiction are given online meetings to attend, and while for some this has been fine and their recovery has continued, others find the discipline needed to attend these meetings too difficult and the risk of relapse rises
As of May 2021, the general guideline released by the Public Health in England for commissioners and providers of services for people who use drugs or alcohol states:
“It is important that drug and alcohol services remain open and operating as they protect vulnerable people who are at greater risk from COVID-19 and help reduce the burden on other healthcare services. People who misuse or are dependent on drugs and alcohol may be at increased risk of becoming infected, and infecting others, with COVID-19. They may also be more vulnerable to poor health outcomes due to underlying physical and mental health conditions, which may have worsened due to the pandemic.”