Impacts of Covid-19 on People Who Use Drugs

Everyone’s life has changed dramatically this year. From March onwards, we’ve had to adapt to the pandemic in ways that would have been inconceivable just a year ago. Yet it seems to us as researchers that the less social capital a person has, the more dramatic the change has been. People who use drugs have already been through massive shifts in their life circumstances which many people can’t imagine, often several times over.

Our study was a response to the Chief Scientist Office of Scotland’s call for small, quick studies that could be set up rapidly to capture this unique moment in time. We examined how the pandemic has changed the market in illicit drugs, how it has affected people who use drugs, and also how it has affected services for those taking opiate substitution therapies. From our previous work at the University of Stirling, we had a good contact network of homeless, harm reduction and recovery services, and we used these contacts to interview 29 people who used drugs across central Scotland in homeless centres and via recovery communities. Our colleagues at the University of Edinburgh had the necessary expertise to examine how drug markets on the dark web were adapting, and what people were saying online about quality, price, and ease of supply on websites and social media. We were also lucky to gain insights from the Scottish Drugs Forum, CREW 2000, and Police Scotland which helped us enormously. And thanks also go to Lindsey Hines and the LUCID-B study team in Bristol who were generous in sharing their own work in the early stages.

We’re keen to hear from people who feel they may have insights that expand on the themes we talk about. For this purpose, we’ve created a website where you will find a summary of the results – how the pandemic has affected people who use drugs, their drug markets, services, sense of wellbeing and recovery.

The website can be found at

You can also follow our Twitter feed:   @CovidDrugs

Whether you are someone with experience of using drugs or addiction / harm reduction services during the pandemic, a support worker, someone with an insight into market behaviours, or a researcher like ourselves, we would be keen to hear from a wide variety of people. We hope that you find our initial results interesting and will consider adding your thoughts if you can. The website will be monitored until March 2021.

With thanks, from the research team:  Catriona Matheson, Angus Bancroft, Joe Schofield, Josh Dumbrell, Idil Galip, Tania Browne, and Tessa Parkes.

Author: Tania Browne, Research Assistant – Salvation Army Centre for Addiction Services and Research 


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