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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Law Enforcement Seizes More Illegal Drugs During Pandemic

Meth and handcuffs

Seizures of methamphetamine have risen during the pandemic in five regions studied.

Photo: BLUESHOT/ISTOCK/GETTY

An analysis of law enforcement seizures of illegal drugs in five key U.S. regions revealed a rise in methamphetamine and marijuana (cannabis) confiscations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Seizures of the two drugs were higher at their peak in August 2020 than at any time in the prior year. While investigators found that trends in heroin, cocaine and fentanyl seizures were not affected by the pandemic, provisional overdose death data show that the increased drug mortality seen in 2019 rose further through the first half of 2020. 

In the NIDA study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, investigators analyzed nearly 30,000 drug seizures from March 2019 through September 2020 in Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Chicago, Ohio, New Mexico and North Florida. 

Measures to address the Covid-19 pandemic have limited social gatherings, closed international borders and reduced economic activity across many sectors. The findings suggest that the pandemic and its related restrictions may have affected the availability and demand of some, but not all, illegal drugs, and that availability may have increased in summer and fall of 2020 in the five regions under study.

“Our understanding of how the Covid-19 pandemic affects drug use is evolving, but we do know that social isolation, even for short periods, can cause psychological distress that may drive some people to seek out psychoactive substances,” said lead study investigator Dr. Joseph Palamar of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and co-investigator on the National Drug Early Warning System. “It is critical for us to obtain a clearer picture of how the pandemic has influenced drug supply and demand, so that we may better mitigate potential harmful effects of changing drug use patterns.”

Incidences of marijuana and methamphetamine seizures dipped at the beginning of the pandemic, with low points in April 2020, but confiscations subsequently rose, exceeding pre-Covid-19 seizure rates. Provisional CDC data show overdose deaths involving stimulant drugs, including methamphetamine, have increased 39 percent in the year ending in June 2020 compared to the year ending in June 2019.

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Associate Editor: Carla Garnett
Carla.Garnett@nih.gov

Staff Writers:

Eric Bock
Eric.Bock@nih.gov

Dana Talesnik
Dana.Talesnik@nih.gov

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