Publications & Reports

Disruption to Australian heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy markets with the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions.

Price O, Man N, Sutherland R, Bruno R, Dietze P, Salom C, Agramunt S, Grigg J, Degenhardt L, Peacock A.
National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW Sydney, Sydney, Australia. Electronic address: [email protected]


BACKGROUND: Changes to drug markets can affect drug use and related harms. We aimed to describe market trends of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy in Australia following the introduction of COVID-19 pandemic-associated restrictions. METHODS: Australians residing in capital cities who regularly inject drugs (n approximately = 900 each year) or regularly use ecstasy and/or other illicit stimulants (n approximately = 800 each year) participated in annual interviews 2014-2022. We used self-reported market indicators (price, availability, and purity) for heroin, crystal methamphetamine, cocaine, and ecstasy crystal to estimate generalised additive models. Observations from the 2014-2019 surveys were used to establish the pre-pandemic trend; 2020, 2021 and 2022 observations were considered immediate, short-term and longer-term changes since the introduction of pandemic restrictions. RESULTS: Immediate impacts on market indicators were observed for heroin and methamphetamine in 2020 relative to the 2014-2019 trend; price per cap/point increased (beta: A$9.69, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 2.25-17.1 and beta: A$40.3, 95% CI: 33.1-47.5, respectively), while perceived availability (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] for ‘easy’/‘very easy’ to obtain: 0.38, 95% CI: 0.24-0.59 and aOR: 0.08, 95% CI: 0.03-0.25, respectively) and perceived purity (aOR for ‘high’ purity: 0.36, 95% CI: 0.23-0.54 and aOR: 0.33, 95% CI: 0.20-0.54, respectively) decreased. There was no longer evidence for change in 2021 or 2022 relative to the 2014-2019 trend. Changes to ecstasy and cocaine markets were most evident in 2022 relative to the pre-pandemic trend: price per gram increased (beta: A$92.8, 95% CI: 61.6-124 and beta: A$24.3, 95% CI: 7.93-40.6, respectively) and perceived purity decreased (aOR for ‘high purity’: 0.18, 95% CI: 0.09-0.35 and 0.57, 95% CI: 0.36-0.90, respectively), while ecstasy was also perceived as less easy to obtain (aOR: 0.18, 95% CI: 0.09-0.35). CONCLUSION: There were distinct disruptions to illicit drug markets in Australia after the COVID-19 pandemic began; the timing and magnitude varied by drug.

Link to publisher’s website


  • Journal: The International Journal on Drug Policy
  • Published: 16/02/2023
  • Volume: 113
  • Pagination: 103976