The NZ Drug Foundation found that while some people took a break from drugs during previous lockdowns, others were using much more and in riskier ways. It means right now, it’s more important than ever to have reliable information around safe drug use. Baz Macdonald takes a look. 

Reddit is a wealth of information and perspectives on anything and everything - but not all of it is trustworthy. Yet, according to the NZ Drug Foundation, it is where a lot of people source their drug information.

That is not a good situation at the best of times, but particularly during lockdown’s where some people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope.

The deputy executive director of the Drug Foundation Ben Birks Ang says their research has found the easiest way to stop many people listening to you when trying to discuss drug use harm, is to start with the phrase “don’t do drugs”.

A more useful approach begins with acknowledging reality, which is people are taking drugs, and during lockdown, factors like extra stress and feeling isolated often lead to riskier behaviours, he says. 

“When we’re straight up with each other, we can explore the situation together – and that is much more effective than trying to convince someone there’s a problem.” 

Right now, Delta's got us stuck at home for a bit longer. Because of this, the Drug Foundation has launched their new site The Level early. It's a “straight up guide" for people using drugs.

“Similar to previous lockdowns, we’ve spoken with people who are using much more, using in riskier ways, and some who are also using lockdown to take a break,” Ben says. 

“Now’s a time for us all to be straight up with each other – leaving less room for misinterpretation or things that can shut down a much needed conversation.”

We've got their top five pieces of advice on safe drug use during lockdown.

Ben Birks Ang

Remember, drugs don’t automatically help your headspace

A lot of people use drugs and alcohol to cope with lockdown, Ben says. But people should be mindful of whether drugs are really helping them cope with this situation or not.

Your experience with a drug is shaped by three things, he says:

  • The drug you take
  • The environment you are in
  • And your mindset 

Lockdowns tend to make people nervous and anxious, Ben says. And, even if you don’t realise it, there are likely underlying tensions you are experiencing from this lockdown environment.

“If your mindset is that you are nervous, or you're uncomfortable in your environment, whatever you are taking will likely make it worse.”

Even if you have a lot of experience with a drug, you might have a different experience in lockdown just because the setting and mindset are different.

It’s also important to think about the type of drug you take. Drugs that may calm users down are probably better to take than drugs that would amp them up, Ben says.

“Those kinds of amp up drugs are more likely to lean into your nervousness.”

Be practical: If you’re going to take a trip, plan it and look after yourself 

The Level encourages users to anonymously share their lockdown drug experiences so that people can get practical advice for safer drug use.

One user wrote in, encouraging people to plan their trips more carefully during lockdown than they might usually - especially around food and water. 

“HYDRATE! And make sure you have some nutritious food available that doesn't require cooking - you can't just go out and get food,” they wrote.

Ben says there are often things you might need during a trip that can’t be as readily available to you during lockdown.

“You can’t call a friend and have them come over to intervene if you get nervous, you can’t jump in an uber to the supermarket or order takeaways (for those still at Level 4).”

Which means some extra planning needs to be made to make sure you have everything you need, and all the support systems set up, before a trip.

The NEST acronym is something they encourage users to think about, even out of Lockdown, Ben says. 


Nutrition -  Make sure you are eating well

Exercise -  Stay active and make sure you are getting some exercise 

Sleep - Get as much good sleep as you can

Time to reflect - Take time after every trip to reflect and process on your use  

“Checking before drug use is always important, because it helps you to identify what kind of experience you are likely to have and whether it is a good time to do that,” Ben says.

“You should be doing that to stay mentally healthy anyway. But, especially now in this unusual time, where people are likely to get a different experience than they are used to even if they are seasoned users.

Don’t break the bubble: Delta is still about so stick to lockdown rules

Whether procuring drugs, or mid-trip, there are many ways drug use could lead to breaking lockdown rules. Take every precaution to avoid this, Ben says. 

“Everyone is trying to cope with the situation in a way that works for them. 

“Regardless of whether people are coping with things that are legal - like alcohol - or illegal, we want people to be as safe as possible.”

Alcohol is available during lockdown through supermarkets and delivery services, but illegal drugs don’t have rules applied by the Government around lockdown protocols - because, well, they're illegal.

So, even if you’re going to break the law by buying drugs, you should try not to break the lockdown as well.

“If people need to leave their bubble to purchase drugs, make sure you are sticking to as many alert level cautions as possible,” Ben says.

Try to be as contactless as you can and follow standard hygiene practices including washing your hands and any packages afterwards.

Social distance, wash your hands and packages, and make sure you are not sharing equipment with others.

Keep your drug use as contained to your bubble as possible, both where you take it and where you ride out the trip. Users writing into The Level warned against going for walks where they may unthinkingly invade other people’s bubbles, or cause disruption.

Ben notes that for people who have locked down with family or others they want to hide their drug use from, there could be an inclination to take drugs in a public place like a park. 

“It may be tricky if you want to hide your drug use from people in your bubble, but that doesn’t mean it is safer to use in a place like a park. The chances of something going wrong are a lot higher.”

This would be an example of what not to do during lockdown. Note: This image is actually of someone protesting police involvement in a marijuana march in Toronto, Canada in 2016.

Maintain good yarns with someone about your usage

Ben encourages people to establish communication with friends and family about your drug use - not just in lockdown, but in general.

“Talk to a trusted friend or someone in your bubble if you're comfortable, let them know what you're thinking of taking, if they’ve used it before, and make a plan about if things go wrong.”

By talking with people about your drug use, it gives you a chance to reflect on your usage and how it's been making you feel, and also to share advice on the safest practise and what to do if things go wrong, Ben says.

During lockdown, the ideal would be that you would have someone in your bubble sober enough to intervene if something goes wrong, who knows what you have taken and how much. But if that’s not possible, you should make a plan about what you're going to take, and tell someone outside your bubble.

Reach out if you need help: Lots of services are still available during lockdown

If things do go badly, remember that even though we are in lockdown, emergency medical services are still available and it is still completely appropriate to use them.

“Call emergency services if you need them,” Ben says. “They are very able to come and help. Never wait. The longer you do, the greater the health risks there are.”

But many other drug related services are also still available, such as the needle exchange and opioid treatment services.

Ben also points out that many support groups are still operating, and that now may be the easiest time for people thinking about reaching out to a group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to check them out.

“If you’ve ever been thinking of a time to reach out and connect, this is one of the best times to do that. You can just zoom in from your computer and watch and hear other people's stories and contribute if they feel like it,” Ben says.

If you feel like you need any support with your drug and alcohol use during lockdown, reach out to the Alcohol Drug helplines:

Alcohol Drug Helpline 0800 787 797 or free text 8681

Māori Line 0800 787 798 

Pasifika Line  0800 787 799 

Youth Line 0800 787 984

Online online chat available

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