Anti-coronavirus measures hit Czech drug addicts, hinder outreach efforts

Foto: Filip Jandourek, Archiv des Tschechischen Rundfunks

The closing of international borders to contain the novel coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on businesses of all kinds – including the illegal drug trade. As a result, official say, the price of highly addictive drugs such as heroin and crystal meth have shot up. While shortages can compel hardcore users to seek treatment, state of emergency measures are complicating outreach efforts.

Martina Richterová Těmínová,  photo: Adéla Paulík Lichková / Czech Radio
In recent years, the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction has noted a steady rise in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction to crystal meth, known locally as pervetin. At the same time, the centre notes the large-scale production has moved to Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

Although crystal meth is still cooked in an estimated 200 small-scale labs in the Czech Republic, local demand far outstrips local supply. The closure of borders has also cut off the supply of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, which can be chemically modified to produce meth.

Such factors together have driven up prices for heroin and pervetin, the most used illegal drug in the country, says Dr Martina Richterová Těmínová of Sananim, one of the largest providers of social services to drug addicts and people in treatment.

“The current situation has led to a widespread shortage of drugs. Our clients say heroin is hard to find and far more expensive. The case is similar for pervetin, and the quality is worse. So, we are in a situation where there are few drugs and many people who need them. It is a difficult time for our clients. Many turn from their preferred drug to whatever they can find.”

Under normal circumstances, more functional addicts might be compelled to seek treatment. But the strict lockdown measures intended to stop the coronavirus spreading are preventing drug users from reaching support services and opioid substitutes to manage their addictions.

In response, some addicts have turned to opiates rather than amphetamines, to mixing prescription drugs, or to alcohol. Dr Richterová Těmínová says that makes the human contact aspect of outreach services all the more essential.

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
“Our clients suffer most from feeling isolated. And during this period of quarantine, I find it especially important that we not abandon them. Everyone is all afraid of what lies ahead. But the main thing is not to leave them feeling alone now.

“When outreach centres are managing only the basic services, distributing food and facemasks, doing needles exchanges, and do not have the time or a place to provide counselling, to talk to clients … That contact is what they probably miss most.”

Some Czech groups working with drug addicts have called for expanding space for systematically stepping up outreach efforts and expanding detoxification centres and addiction departments in psychiatric hospitals during the coronavirus outbreak. They argue that otherwise there could be a mushrooming of so called ‘black laboratories” to fill the demand.