As Freedom Day hits, drinks, drugs, and debauchery are on the horizon.
We don’t want to be the ones putting a dampener on the fun, but danger lies ahead, too.
Experts warn that as lockdown lifts, we may face an increased risk of overdoses.
There a few reasons for this looming trouble.
The first centres around our tolerance levels. If we’ve been well-behaved in lockdown – meaning we haven’t we haven’t taken any drugs for the past year or have taken less – our tolerance to drugs will have taken a dip.
This may mean that as we return to our old partying ways, we’re no longer able to handle the same quantities of drugs as before. If we return straight to those pre-pandemic sized lines, we could find ourselves in danger.
The second worry lies in the increased anxiety and despair many of us have experienced in lockdown, and the likelihood that we might go too hard alcohol or other drugs as a way to try to cope.
‘Reports of an increase in anxiety and depression since lockdown may result in additional vulnerability and fears, which could be combined with additional anxiety from mingling in large crowds again,’ explains Maria, a critical care nurse and a member of the senior harm reduction team at The Loop. ‘Often attempts to mitigate symptoms of social anxiety result in intentional or unintentional increase in substance use.’
Then there’s the celebratory vibe associated with Freedom Day.
How many people have you heard vowing to go big when lockdown restrictions lift, with excessive amounts of booze and drugs firmly on the menu? Even the name, Freedom Day, evokes ideas of letting go and going wild after months of being locked into restrictions.
‘People are likely to feel less inhibited and more in celebratory mood, and cocaine is almost always linked with alcohol use,’ says Dr Niall Campbell, a UK addiction expert based at the Priory’s Hospital in Roehampton, south-west London. ‘People will often have “euphoric recall” about their [pre-lockdown] drinking or drug use, and feel the need to be even more intoxicated, or behave more recklessly.’
We might make a rapid swap to drugs more associated with partying as a result of Freedom Day, too.
‘A Trans-European survey conducted by The Loop uncovered changes in behaviour with regards to drug use during lockdown,’ says Maria. ‘Respondents reported veering away from stimulant use, while opting for depressant drugs such as alcohol.
‘There was a decrease in use of “party drugs” such as MDMA or ketamine during lockdown as a result of not hanging out in certain social circles nor taking part in usual social activities where drug use would occur.
People’s tolerance for a drug often declines when they have a break from using or take a drug less frequently, resulting in a smaller dose producing the same high.
‘Over-excitement may also lead to more risky behaviours.’
Overdoses can also occur when we aren’t really sure what we’re taking.
It might be the case that amid all the Freedom Day excitement, we’re not as cautious when it comes to what we take.
This can mean we end up consuming drugs that have much higher levels of active ingredients – Swiss drug checking services have tested pills in excess of 350mg of MDMA in 2021, equating to three or four times an average adult dosage – or that they are completely different substances to what we are expecting.
‘The pandemic and Brexit have affected drug markets both at home and abroad,’ Maria explains. ‘Disruptions to drug markets can result in higher incidences of mis-selling (where one substance is passed off as another).
‘Cathinones (synthetic stimulants) are known to be mis-sold as MDMA. The Loop has found pentylone and N-ethylpentylone mis-sold as MDMA in past years, while KnowYourStuffNZ has found eutylone in one third of samples sold as MDMA this year.
‘The effects of these drugs are not well understood and pose potential risks to physical and psychological health.’
Okay, so we can see why the risk of overdoses might be higher than normal as restrictions lift. But what should we do about it?
Ideally, we would all just behave sensibly, consider the risks, and not do drugs at all.
But if you are going to ignore that advice and party regardless, be aware of the increased dangers, and ensure you’re doing drugs in the safest way possible.
‘If the decision is made to use drugs, try not to combine drugs with other drugs, especially alcohol,’ says Maria.
‘Inform yourself as much as possible about the drug before taking it. Make sure you are aware of the effects and risks, and interactions with other substances such as over-the-counter and prescription medications.
‘The safest means of knowing the quantity and quality of the substance is to have it tested at a drug checking service such as The Loop. However, in an unregulated drugs market choosing to take the drug still carries risks. The strength of pills may vary in batches.
‘Look out for alerts for substances of concern in circulation. Alert your friends to any undesirable effects you have noticed.
‘Start low and go slow. You can always go on to take more of a substance, not less.’
This article is a part of High Alert, a campaign from Metro.co.uk and drug checking organisation The Loop. To find out more about their 2021 harm reduction campaign and how to reduce the risks of drug use, click here.
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