Daily analysis of the region’s wastewater, conducted by a special research team at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, has shown an alarming spike in drug abuse, especially cocaine, and the use of psychiatric medications amongst its citizens in the past year.
According to the team’s findings, cocaine use in March of 2020, when the nation’s first lockdown was put in place, doubled compared to March, 2019.
Whereas in March 2019, the team usually registered the equivalent of two doses of cocaine per 1,000 citizens every day, in the same month of the next year, they recorded four doses amongst the same number of people daily, which remained consistent throughout the year.
This means that either those who were already regular abusers of cocaine began taking more of the drug in 2020, or others who were not previously drug users have started taking cocaine.
According to researchers, this phenomenon is not restricted to Greece alone, but has also been noted across Europe.
Despite this hike in cocaine use, which is the largest yearly increase the country has ever seen, the abuse of the drug in Greece is quite low compared to other European countries. Currently, cocaine use in Europe is most prevalent in the UK and the Netherlands.
In addition to cocaine, researchers have found indications of increased abuse of amphetamines and methamphetamine in Attica’s wastewater. Use of the two stimulants, found for a low price on the street, has slowly grown in the country each year since 2010.
Drug use, lockdown, and mental health
Perhaps understandably, the use of prescription antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications has also surged by 60% in 2020, compared to the year before.
The use of psychiatric medications in Attica has not, however, reached the peak that it did in 2014, during the height of the financial crisis.
The jump in drug use and abuse amongst the Greek, and European, populations under lockdown comes at a time when psychologists around the world are questioning the impact that such strict anti-virus measures have on mental health.
Additionally, the pandemic itself, regardless of protective measures, is the source of much anxiety and fear across the world. Many are overwhelmed by worries of illness, death, or loss due to the coronavirus.
For those who struggle with addiction or mental health issues, such periods of isolation, stress, and anxiety, along with the nature of the pandemic itself, may push them to self-medicate with illicit substances or alcohol.