OPINION: Lockdown, boredom and drug use – why we should all be aware
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Journalism student Danielle Champ says we should all exercise vigilance when it comes to the subject of drug usage, especially in these current times
When I moved to London, we were three days into the national lockdown. It was a thriller writing itself: small town girl heads to the big city and is forced into close-quarters to weather a pandemic with a total stranger. Spoiler: she survives, so does her flatmate and both are incredibly fortunate (and grateful) for the other’s upstanding moral compass. We were also fortunate enough to have financial safety nets that were free from the responsibility of supporting a family, and would hold us securely beyond lockdown. So we splashed out on innocent addictions like baking, Amazon and copious amounts of coffee.
But seven months later, we are still experiencing the same uncertainties we faced in March. With a recession, the possibility of lockdown being reintroduced on a local level, and an urgent social yearning to return to life pre-2020, could we see a trend in the sales of not-so-innocent addictions as another avenue for financial stability?
According to a report done last year by the Home Office and Public Health England, around 3.2 million people aged between 16 and 59 had taken drugs in 2019. These facts supplemented with Dame Carol Black’s study, which highlights the UK’s illicit drug market racking up over £10bn a year, demonstrates that despite its illegality, the drugs industry is a thriving one and can only continue to grow as, historically, studies have shown that during times of recession, the increase in psychological distress is followed by an increase in alcohol and illicit drug consumption.
And like most businesses during the pandemic, narcotics is an industry that experienced the same difficulties and disruptions to its network with the international travel ban and national lockdown enforcing restrictions on movement.
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However – unlike most businesses – this industry can not apply for furlough and so in order to stay lucrative, it has needed to adapt to the new climate.
In June, Sixgill, a cyber intelligence firm monitoring trends of the dark web, announced that online sales of illicit drugs had risen by 500% as dealers moved off the streets into the depths of the digital realm. This adaptation has meant the industry has become all the more elusive, yet even more accessible. With the right software, you could choose from a catalogue of popular poisons and have them delivered as easily as using Amazon Prime.
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Consequently, reports of county line networks and smuggling have started to re-emerge. The National Crime Agency revealed that this was owing to the number of people who are quickly becoming vulnerable to financial insecurity.
In September, a barber in Bournemouth was arrested for smuggling £300,000 worth of cocaine into the UK from Brazil. When interrogated by investigators working with the NCA, 22-year-old Jhonatan Martins Kirchhoff admitted that the scarcity of jobs during the pandemic had led him to search for other ways of getting cash.
A few weeks later, in Great Yarmouth, a man was arrested for distributing class A drugs from his caravan. Although Daniel Gould’s reasons for turning to drug-dealing as an income was owed to an injury he sustained, the ability to accomplish his endeavour during a pandemic is no less alarming.
As of July 2020, over 300,000 employers were made redundant according to an investigation carried out by the BBC. Additionally, between March and August, 2.7 million people made claims for benefits. This was almost a 120% increase from 2019. I cannot say for certain that the desperate times the pandemic is imposing on all of us will result in a national turn to desperate measures. There are too many unknowns.
The dark web is tricky territory to navigate and the drugs crisis appears unstoppable. This means that the conditions are all there for this deadly storm to gain greater momentum: social anxieties, financial insecurity and a large pool of vulnerable people who need to make ends meet.
Whether this pandemic is setting the scene for season return of Breaking Bad, only time will tell, but the use of illicit drugs has devastating consequences on families and communities, and it is vital for the safety of our children that we stay vigilant of every possibility.