COVID-19 restrictions have led to a mixed picture of drug use

National restrictions put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 led to an overall decline in drug use during the first three months of lockdown, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has announced.

However, the picture is much less clear when looking specifically at cannabis use – which has seen a reduction in use by some people and an increase in others – and alcohol use, where there has been a reported increase in use.

The findings come from the EMCDDA’s Impact of COVID-19 on patterns of drug use and drug-related harm in Europe report, which looked at the implications of the coronavirus pandemic on drug use across Europe.

The report found that there has been a significant decrease in the use of cocaine and MDMA, suggesting that this could largely be attributed to the lockdown measures and downturn in the night-time economy. These findings were backed up by wastewater studies in several European cities. Heroin use was also down during lockdown, with localised shortages of the drug cited as the reason for the drop in usage. The scientists also reported seeing an increase in the use of replacement substances during this period.

Cannabis use was a more muddled picture, with some data suggesting that many people had cut back or stopped smoking cannabis entirely, while other data reporting an increase of cannabis use due to boredom and an increase in anxiety levels.

However, while the use of many drugs dropped during the lockdown period, the use of alcohol and prescription medication – and especially benzodiazepines – increased over the same three months.

Despite the broad trends, the authors of the report warned that there were also some localised variations in results. For example, Norway saw an increase in the use of amphetamines during the lockdown.