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ABSTRACT: Drug use during COVID-19: Findings from the ADAPT study

Drug use during COVID-19: Findings from the ADAPT study


Presenter: Rachel Sutherland


Author names: 1 Sutherland, R; 1 Memedovic, S; 2 Hammoud, M; 1,3 Peacock, A.


Author affiliation: 1 National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney, Sydney, Australia; 2 Kirby Institute, UNSW Sydney, Sydney, Australia; 3 Division of Psychology, School of Medicine, University of Tasmania, Sandy Bay, Australia


Introduction: Governments around the world have imposed restrictions on gatherings and movement in an attempt to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. This has likely had a significant impact on illicit drug markets, use patterns, harms and help-seeking, however the extent of this impact in the Australian context remains unclear. The ADAPT study was developed to address this knowledge gap and includes a longitudinal online survey of people who were regularly using illicit drugs in 2019 (i.e. prior to the emergence of COVID-19). This presentation will provide an overview of the ADAPT study, as well as present findings from wave 1 (baseline) and wave 2 (two-month follow-up).


Aims: This presentation will examine self-reported experiences of: 

  • COVID-19 testing and diagnosis, isolation practices, and experience of restrictions;
  • Impacts of COVID-19 on patterns of drug use, procurement, markets, and harms (e.g., overdose); and
  • Impacts of COVID-19 on access to drug treatment and harm reduction services.


Methods: The ADAPT study comprises an online sample of Australians who regularly (i.e., at least monthly) used illicit drugs in 2019. Participants were invited to complete an initial online survey, as well as six follow-up surveys (2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12 months, 2 years and 3 years). Participants could opt to complete the first survey only. This presentation will focus on participants who consented to be followed-up, and who completed both the wave 1 and wave 2 survey.


Results: Recruitment for wave 1 is ongoing, and wave 2 has not yet commenced. However, both wave 1 and wave 2 data will be available in time for the NDARC symposium. Preliminary data from wave 1 (500 participants) shows that the ADAPT study mostly comprises young (median age 25) men (54%), who were relatively well-educated (62% with tertiary/university qualifications). The majority lived in capital cities or inner-city suburbs, although notably about one-quarter (24%) of participants reported living in regional/rural/remote areas. The most commonly used drugs by participants post COVID-19 restrictions (i.e., after March 2020) were alcohol (91%), cannabis (81%), tobacco (65%), MDMA (36%), e-cigarettes (28%), benzodiazepines (26%), cocaine (25%) and LSD (25%). Among those who reported past year use, the use of cannabis (56%) and alcohol (43%) mostly increased since the beginning of March (i.e., since COVID-19 restrictions) as compared to before; MDMA (52%), cocaine (47%) and ketamine (46%) mostly decreased since the beginning of March (i.e., since COVID-19 restrictions) as compared to before; and GHB (59%), benzodiazepines (55%), pharmaceutical opioids (55%), e-cigarettes (51%) and LSD (50%) remained mostly stable. Participants reported engaging in a range of behaviours to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 and/or minimise impact of COVID-19 restrictions since March 2020, while 32% reported they had experienced (mostly voluntary) drug withdrawal since March 2020.


Implications for policy and practice: Specific implications are pending; however, the findings will provide an understanding of the needs and concerns of people who use illicit drugs, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate efforts to minimise the harms experienced.

image - Rachel Sutherland