COVID-19: Information for those who use drugs

Disclaimer: This resource provides information, not advice. Please read the full disclaimer at the end of this resource.

If you contract COVID-19, it could have a worse effect on your health if you are using drugs.

  • Smoking drugs, including tobacco, damages your airways and stops oxygen getting into your lood, causing heart and lung problems including COPD and asthma.
  • People who inject drugs are more likely to get certain viral infections and cancers, which weaken their immune system.
  • Recreational drug users are likely to consume drugs in social settings and engage in ‘risky’ behaviour, which increases their risk of exposure to COVID-19. They can also weaken their immune systems by losing sleep, drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco or cannabis while taking recreational drugs.
  • Drugs such as heroin, methadone and benzodiazepines can make you more vulnerable to the damage done by COVID-19. 

Here we provide information to help you reduce harm from the effects of the drugs that you use.

Contact your keyworker. It might be best to stop any further reduction for a short time, as visits to the service might be disrupted if your keyworker is off sick or working from home.

If you have problems with reduction and your keyworker is unable to respond, focus on maintaining stability and keeping yourself well. You can continue to reduce your dose after the pandemic has passed. But you should still be able to contact the team that looks after you.

Ask your drug treatment service about arrangements for prescribing during the COVID-19 lockdown. For example, if you are getting a script every week, it might be possible to change to every 2 weeks. Your drug treatment service should have clear and up-to-date information that you can access or that is sent to you regularly, even if they are making changes fairly often.

  • Appointments are likely to be arranged as either a phone or video call because of social distancing. There are likely to be very few, if any, face-to-face appointments as possible.
  • Face-to-face groups are being put on hold, to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Some groups are now being held online. Ask your keyworker what’s available in your area and how to access local groups.
  • Keep trips to the pharmacy to a minimum, as indicated by the government’s social distancing guidance. If you are on a daily supervised script, it might be possible for your service to change it to a less frequent pick-up plan. Once you have the script from the service, you should be able to arrange for someone else to pick up your prescription for you (preferred option), or you can contact the pharmacy and ask them if they can find a local volunteer who can deliver it to you. 
  • If you have chosen someone to collect your prescription for you, you need to let the pharmacy know that you won’t be collecting the script yourself, and they need to agree to it. Then, let the pharmacy know the name of the person collecting it for you. The person will need to take a signed, dated letter from you and some form of ID to show the pharmacist. Please let the pharmacy know if you have any problems with this because the pharmacy doesn’t have to agree to this if you aren’t the person collecting your script.
  • If you feel unwell, let your keyworker know as soon as possible or, if you need to, ask a friend or family member to call them for you. You should always contact your prescribing service. Some services allow email contact, but check with the service before emailing them (on the website or by phone ahead of time, if possible). Your pharmacist might be able to contact the service for you but do remember they will be busier than ‘normal’. 

Call your local drug treatment service and ask for an assessment appointment. On the NHS website, you can find information about the drug treatment services available in your area.

If you are using opioids, you can ask for opioid substitution therapy (methadone or buprenorphine) during this time.

COVID-19 can spread easily when people take drugs with unclean or shared equipment. To help prevent this, you should:

  • Wash your hands before and after you handle, prepare or take drugs
  • Prepare the drugs that you are going to take yourself. Don't handle or touch other people's drugs or drug-taking equipment, and don't let them touch yours
  • Clean surfaces with disinfectant or alcohol wipes before preparing drugs – you can get them free with your equipment
  • Crush your drugs as finely as possible before use to reduce damage to your skin. (Cuts can increase the risk of transmission.)
  • Try to stop smoking tobacco. Contact your local Stop Smoking Service for help with this. They are available at this time and offer telephone and video calls.
  • Try to use drugs less to reduce your risk of overdose, if you are alone because you need to self-isolate,. Try to avoid combining the drugs you take and let someone else know what you are taking
  • Get a Naloxone box and keep it with you when you are using
  • Stock up on drug-use equipment/materials and get enough to last you at least 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Wipe down drug packages and wraps with alcohol-based cleansers as soon as you get them. A minimum 60% alcohol concentration has been shown to effectively kill COVID-19
  • Avoid putting drug bags/wraps in your mouth, vagina or anus. If you must carry bags or wraps in your body, clean them carefully with an alcohol-based cleanser before and after insertion. If you carry it in your mouth, use an alcohol-based mouthwash afterwards.
  • Only use clean needles and supplies. Free, clean needles are available from needle exchange services. Try to take enough equipment to last you 2 weeks.
  • Wash all injection sites, before and after injecting.
  • Avoid sharing equipment – this includes needles, filters, containers, spoons and water. If possible, it is better to have colour-coded equipment so you know which items are yours and don’t get them mixed up with anyone else’s.
  • If smoking from foil, use clean foil each time.
  • Keep all smoking apparatus and devices (like pipes, bongs and vapes) clean and disinfect them regularly.
  • Avoid sharing smoking apparatus, devices, cigarettes and ‘joints’.
  • Avoid sharing anything that you use to snort or sniff drugs through.
  • Avoid using bank notes, keys or other objects to sniff drugs through or from. Use a clean straw or piece of paper and bin it after use. Don’t share anything you’ve used to sniff or snort drugs with.
  • Rinse inside your nostrils with clean water at the end of a session.
  • Drug supplies may be interrupted because of work and travel restrictions. Any drugs you buy are likely to have been ‘cut’ or mixed with another substance, or they may not contain any of the drug you expect
  • If you don’t have access to the drugs you usually take, you may experience withdrawal. Ask your pharmacy about what medicines you can take to help, such as loperamide for diarrhoea and paracetamol for headache
  • If you drink alcohol, take benzodiazepines or take gabapentin regularly, ask your local drug service for their advice on what you should do.
  • If symptoms become too much, seek medical help and in an emergency call 999.

It can be helpful to talk to people who have similar experiences and are going through a similar situation. Your GP or local addiction service can advise you of the local support available for people affected by someone else’s drug use. There are also organisations that run helplines and support groups (see below). 

During the COVID-19 lockdown, we are all spending more time with the people we live with. You might have already had an honest conversation about how the space that you live in together is being used. If you need to talk to someone you live with about their drug or alcohol use, try to pick the right moment. Be clear about what you want to say, and try to choose a time when you are calm and can listen as well as talk. You may want to discuss the following points in your conversation:

  • Does the person have a regular supply of drugs and alcohol?
  • Can they access drugs and alcohol reasonably safely?
  • How much are they using?

Telephone helplines

  • Talk to Frank – free confidential drugs information and advice line.
    0300 123 6600
  • NHS Direct – provide help and advice on any aspect of drug use.
    0845 4647
  • NHS Smokefree line
    0800 022 4332
  • National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) helpline – if there are concerns about a child or young person. 0808 800 5000
  • Childline – provides advice for anyone under 19.
    0800 1111
  • Families Anonymous- for families and friends concerned about a loved one's drug problems.
    0300 888 3853
  • Release – free legal advice on drug issues and helpline.
    0845 4500 215

Online help

  • We Are With You is a specialist drug and alcohol treatment charity
  • Drugsand.me provides drug education interventions to reduce drug-related harm
  • Parents’ page has a range of advice for parents and carers on how to tackle conversations with kids about drugs, useful links and a downloadable version of their toolkit
  • SMART Recovery helps participants decide whether they have a problem, builds up their motivation to change and offers a set of proven tools and techniques to support recovery
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA) has virtual meetings online for people with addiction to narcotics
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA) has virtual meetings online for people with addiction to cocaine
  • ADFAM provides support for families affected by drugs and alcohol

Disclaimer

This resource provides information, not advice.  

The content in this resource is provided for general information only. It is not intended to, and does not, amount to advice which you should rely on. It is not in any way an alternative to specific advice.  You must therefore obtain the relevant professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the information in this resource.

If you have questions about any medical matter, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider without delay.  

If you think you are experiencing any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from a doctor or other professional healthcare provider.  

Although we make reasonable efforts to compile accurate information in our resources and to update the information in our resources, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in this resource is accurate, complete or up to date.