Covid lockdown's unintended consequences, such as alcoholism, drug use and online gambling, are deadly serious – Steve Cardownie

I have devoted my last two columns to the effect that Covid-19 lockdowns have had on the incidence of online gambling and alcohol consumption amongst the most vulnerable in society with the devastating impact that has had on the individuals concerned as well as on their families and loved ones.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 7:00 am
A man leaves a cross for his brother at a memorial for drug-death victims (Picture: John Devlin)

Of course, lockdowns have been justified as a method of combating the spread of the pandemic and that, along with the roll-out of the vaccine programme in Scotland, appears to be having the desired effect. However, there are unintended consequences and the impact on drug users is another one that has emerged.

The Scottish government has reacted to the drug-use problem by allocating an additional £50 million every year for the next five years to improve and increase services for people affected by drug addiction.

Alarming statistics showed that there were 1,264 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2019 and this prompted immediate actions by the government.

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These include: substantially increasing the number of residential rehabilitation beds across the country, reducing stigma and increasing the number of people in treatment for their addiction, allocating funding directly to alcohol and drug partnerships as well as third sector and grassroots organisations to improve work in communities, widening the distribution of naloxone, implementing new standards for medicine-assisted treatment to ensure equitable services for drug users, and reassessing how overdose prevention facilities might be established despite legal barriers.

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The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has conceded that the government “should have done more earlier” and, when referring to drug-related deaths, said: “Anyone who ends up losing their life as a result of drug addiction, is not just failed at their time of death – in most cases, they will have been failed repeatedly throughout their whole life. I believe that if we have the will, we can and will find the ways to stop this happening. Doing so requires a national mission to end what is currently a national disgrace.”

The Covid-19 lockdown has made the problem worse by creating difficulties for agencies attempting to help drug users, with Waverley Care, which has been supporting these communities by offering psycho-social support, clean injecting equipment, HIV testing and naloxone, an opioid inhibitor that can rapidly reverse an overdose, saying: “Now, due to social distancing and the lockdown, all our street-level activities have been dramatically reduced.”

Due to the lockdown, dealers have redoubled their efforts to utilise internet services to peddle their wares.

Catriona Matheson, professor of substance use at Stirling University, said: “We know that more people get their drugs through the post now. Through various deliveries. You can access illegal drugs very quickly and very easily, get them delivered to your door through online access. Sites get taken down quickly once they are identified but they just keep moving around and change their name.”

When she was asked if the pandemic had increased drug supply through online deliveries, she was of the opinion that “in terms of stimulant drugs, I think it probably has. Some of these stimulants – cocaine, amphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy) and street Valium as well, are being increasingly accessed through social media.”

Online gambling, alcohol consumption and drug usage – unintended consequences of Covid-19 measures that need to be addressed.

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