COVID-19–Related Changes to Drug-Selling Networks and Their Effects on People Who Use Illicit Opioids

David Frank, Noa Krawczyk, Joshua Arshonsky, Marie A. Bragg, Sam R. Friedman, Amanda M. Bunting

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected people’s ability to buy, sell, and obtain items that they use in their daily lives. It may have had a particularly negative effect on the ability of people who use illicit opioids to obtain them because the networks they relied on are illicit and not part of the formal economy. Our objective in this research was to examine if, and how, disruptions related to COVID-19 of illicit opioid markets have affected people who use illicit opioids. Method: We collected 300 posts—including replies to posts—related to the intersection of COVID-19 and opioid use from, a forum that has several discussion threads (i.e., subreddits) dedicated to opioids. We then coded posts from the two most popular opioid subreddits during the early pandemic period (March 5, 2020–May 13, 2020) using an inductive/deductive approach. Results: We found two themes related to active opioid use during the early pandemic: (a) changes in drug supply and difficulty obtaining opioids, and (b) buying less-trustworthy drugs from lesser-known sources. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that COVID-19 has created market conditions that place people who use opioids at risk of adverse outcomes, such as fatal overdose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)222-229
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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