Availability of Illegal Drugs During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Western Germany

Norbert Scherbaum, Udo Bonnet, Henning Hafermann, Fabrizio Schifano, Stefan Bender, Torsten Grigoleit, Jens Kuhn, Peter Nyhuis, Ulrich W Preuss, Gerhard Reymann, Udo Schneider, Jo Shibata, Michael Specka

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Background: In response to the COVID-19-pandemic, a lockdown was established in the middle of March 2020 by the German Federal Government resulting in drastic reduction of private and professional traveling in and out of Germany with a reduction of social contacts in public areas.

Research Questions: We seek evidence on whether the lockdown has led to a reduced availability of illegal drugs and whether subjects with substance-related problems tried to cope with possible drug availability issues by increasingly obtaining drugs via the internet, replacing their preferred illegal drug with novel psychoactive substances, including new synthetic opioids (NSO), and/or by seeking drug treatment.

Methods: A questionnaire was anonymously filled in by subjects with substance-related disorders, typically attending low-threshold settings, drug consumption facilities, and inpatient detoxification wards from a range of locations in the Western part of Germany. Participants had to both identify their main drug of abuse and to answer questions regarding its availability, price, quality, and routes of acquisition. Results: Data were obtained from 362 participants. The most frequent main substances of abuse were cannabis (n = 109), heroin (n = 103), and cocaine (n = 75). A minority of participants reported decreased availability (8.4%), increased price (14.4%), or decreased quality (28.3%) of their main drug. About 81% reported no change in their drug consumption due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown. A shift to the use of novel psychoactive substances including NSO were reported only by single subjects. Only 1-2% of the participants obtained their main drug via the web.

Discussion: Present findings may suggest that recent pandemic-related imposed restrictions may have not been able to substantially influence either acquisition or consumption of drugs within the context of polydrug users (including opiates) attending a range of addiction services in Germany.
Original languageEnglish
Article number648273
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2021


  • COVID-19
  • cannabis
  • cocaine
  • drug availability
  • heroin
  • novel psychotropic substances
  • novel synthetic opioids
  • pregabalin


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