New forms of drug trafficking and consumption after COVID-19

The run-down Prague district of the city of Warsaw is a hot spot for drug addicts and traffickers. Empty bottles, used pill boxes and syringes lie around abandoned shacks. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol warn: the pandemic has a significant impact on the drug addiction scene in the European Union.

The coronavirus disrupts logistics and the drug supply chain around the world. And also the global smuggling routes. How do traffickers and drug addicts react to the chaos of the pandemic? We investigated it in Warsaw.

The pandemic forced the NGO “Precursors’ to reorganize their work on the street. Blood tests and syringe exchange are now done outside of your motorhome. Before the virus, drug addicts were allowed into it to ensure a little privacy.

“Pawel, you have three negative results: you do not have AIDS, nor syphilis, nor hepatitis C. Everything is fine,” he informs his patient, Malwina, a member of the mobile prevention team.

“I am very happy with the results. Actually, I hoped it could be worse and I am glad that it is not. I am thankful for the negative results”, gratefully replies Pawel, a citizen who is undergoing drug substitution treatment with methadone .

The pandemic boosted business in the so-called ‘deep internet’ and home delivery services for illegal substances. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction observed an impact on street traffic: To counter the police presence, the ‘face to face’ treatment is replaced, in part, by the well-known ‘dead drops’, a technique previously used by secret agents during the Cold War.

“The only thing that has changed is that the traffickers do not get in direct contact, they are not face to face, with the buyers. They tell you, I have hidden the drug in such a place. The sale is done by telephone. They hide the drug under a brick or in any other place like, for example, a small hole in the wall, as happens many times, “explains Ewa, a citizen who contracted HIV and is undergoing drug substitution treatment with methadone.

We meet Artur, in a reception center for drug addicts. Former truck driver, he was involved in drug trafficking and organized crime. He spent twelve years in prison for participating in kidnappings. Since getting out of jail, he has struggled with his heroin addiction. He decided to break with his past. He lives in his car and has no steady job.

“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will be increasingly difficult to have money to buy drugs. People fear that the situation could get complicated. Perhaps it is, out of fear of this, that people are inclined towards drug programs. substitution of drugs with methadone. Perhaps, they fear that they are going to writhe in pain, “says Artur, a Polish citizen who is in the process of rehabilitation.

Some clinics offer treatment to stop drug addicts from using heroin. Before the pandemic, methadone was delivered daily, under the control of therapists. Now, it is administered in larger amounts. Doses are offered for a couple of weeks to avoid crowding at distribution points.

“I think that, for a certain group of clients, daily visits are harmful because they create dependency on the environment, because they spend time with people addicted to drugs. Come often and have frequent contact with those who use drugs and offer them the The possibility of selling them is toxic and dangerous for these people, “says Aleksandra Stańczak-wiercioch, head of the NGO’s recruitment center.Precursors‘in Warsaw.

The Polish Network for Drug Policy advocates for legal solutions to receive methadone in pharmacies. We discussed the idea with Olga. In her youth, she used cannabis and ended up addicted to heroin until she opted for long-term methadone treatment. Surprisingly, he is against changing the distribution schemes, from daily to weekly.

“We are not going to fool ourselves. Some of the people who have signed up for the methadone substitution program have not done so to get out of the problem they are in, that is, the drug. On the other hand, methadone is not a substitute for the drug, it’s not the same thing. They don’t even consume it when they receive it but resell it. If the changes established due to the pandemic are maintained and they receive doses of methadone for two weeks … they can sell it. AND the money, everyone says, is not used to buy food, but to buy drugs, “says Olga, a former drug addict who has been rebated, through treatment with methadone.

The pandemic destroys the economy and brutally impacts the labor market; shatters the hopes of many drug addicts.

“The pandemic changed my life. After getting out of jail and finding a job, in principle, everything seemed to be going well. I even had a flat. But I lost everything, again; both the job and the flat. I reached a point in which I had to choose between becoming a homeless person and being on the street or starting to steal again. Now, due to the pandemic, many are faced with this situation and have to choose between one or the other way, “says Wojtek, A fictitious name for a former heroin dealer.

After talking to his therapist at the clinic, Wojtek agrees to tell his story. He had a good job at a fancy bar. The coronavirus disaster pushed him back to his old life – he stole again. Wojtek is a fictitious name to protect your identity. After unsuccessfully searching for a ‘normal’ job at various temp agencies, he gave up.

“For my whole life, I have worked as a cook so, for me, right now, there is no work. This is the truth. There was a period when I was addicted. I was for more than two years. I myself sold drugs. He sold what I was addicted to: heroin. It was a real drama, “says Wojtek, a former drug addict and also a former heroin dealer.

Wojtek stopped using drugs but is still addicted to alcohol, gambling and women. To satisfy these addictions you need huge amounts of money; achieved illegally.

“It is not a lot of money. These 3 000 zlotys, at current exchange about 660 euros, are nothing. For a normal person it is enough to spend a month. In my case, this is enough for just a day or two, like I can go robbing at any time. I usually rob warehouses, and in Warsaw there are many. Today, it is easier to steal than to have a normal and honest job, “Wojtek concludes.

While he is making money illegally, we head towards the headquarters of the Polish Border Guard.

The deputy director of the Investigation Commission shows us the sophisticated drug detection laboratory. Due to the movement restrictions generated by the pandemic, fewer vehicles crossed European borders and drug traffickers tried to hide their illegal substances in a more sophisticated way.

“We have more cases in which drugs were hidden in areas inside the chassis of vehicles. Cars that transport drugs have had difficulties to circulate, without raising suspicions, through Spain, France and Germany, bound for Poland. With regard to the next few months, we believe that organized crime wants to recover the level of profits and profits that its criminal activity produced before the pandemic. To do this, it will work more intensely, “says Arkadiusz Olejnik, deputy director of the Investigation Commission of the Polish Border Guard.

The first wave of the pandemic and movement restrictions reduced, in a short time, the volume of cross-border drug trafficking. But the battle against addiction and drug trafficking continues.