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NDARC’s response to coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Date Published:
27 Apr 2020

The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) at UNSW Sydney is closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and responding through new and existing research projects. A summary of this activity is listed below and will be updated regularly as information becomes available.

We’re consulting with key stakeholders to identify the most efficient and effective opportunities for collaboration and will continue to assess the contribution NDARC can make to the crisis as it affects vulnerable populations including people who use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.

NDARC COVID-19 research activity

Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System (EDRS)

The EDRS is a national monitoring system that conducts annual interviews with people who regularly use ecstasy and other stimulants to identify emerging trends of local and national interest in the markets for these drugs. 

In response to COVID-19, all 2020 EDRS interviews and interview components will be completed via online/telephone delivery rather than the normal face to face process. Questions about COVID-19 including diagnosis, social distancing/isolation practices, changes in drug purchasing and use behaviours, and changes in drug-related harms will be included.

Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS)

The IDRS is a national illicit drug monitoring system that conducts annual interviews with people who inject drugs (PWID) to identify emerging trends of local and national concern in illicit drug markets. 

A range of changes are proposed to support 2020 data collection in light of COVID-19, including adapting recruitment techniques and interview methods, content and length. Interviews will be heavily focused on COVID-19 and related restriction impacts, and particularly changes in treatment and harm reduction service engagement. The IDRS provides a unique opportunity to reach a population who may be vulnerable to COVID-19 due to underlying health issues, stigma, social marginalisation and higher economic and social vulnerabilities.

Australians’ Drug Use: Adapting to Pandemic Threats (ADAPT) Study

The ADAPT Study is a new project that aims to provide critical, timely information for government and other stakeholders about the impact of COVID-19 on people who use illicit drugs, and measure longer-term impacts of COVID-19 to facilitate sustained efforts to minimise harms. 

The study will comprise an online longitudinal cohort (followed up initially at two, four, six and 12 months), making it a key study internationally examining the ongoing impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic and overcoming issues of face-to-face data collection confronting many.

Visit the project website for more infomation about the ADAPT Study. 

National Illicit Drug Indicators Project (NIDIP) 

The NIDIP aims to provide epidemiological data on trends over time in drug-related harms. 

There is scope to explore COVID-19 related impacts through interrupted time series analysis of key federal data sources (e.g. hospitalisations, deaths and drug treatment episodes) accessed through the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). NIDIP also has access to the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).

Drugs and New Technologies (DNeT) Project 

The DNeT Project aims to investigate drug marketplaces online and in other emerging technologies. The primary aim of cryptomarket monitoring is to understand trends in the online availability of psychoactive substances on darknet markets, also known as cryptomarkets. 

There is scope to look at trends in cryptomarket listings and drugs available on these sites since COVID-19 restrictions were implemented.

Australian Parental Supply of Alcohol Longitudinal Study (APSALS) 

The NHMRC funded APSALS project (cohort of ~1,900 young Australians followed for 10 years) is investigating the impact of parental supply of alcohol on drinking trajectories in Australian adolescents, including how parental supply relates to the acceleration or deceleration of harmful drinking, and how related factors may mediate and moderate the relationship. 

We are in discussions about how APSALS could integrate COVID-19 and recognise this data source as one of the few longitudinal cohorts comprehensively capturing alcohol use, harms, dependence, and treatment-seeking. Options include integrating COVID-19 questions in the current survey, conducting a separate survey of the cohort, or comparing interviews before and after COVID-19.