The Impact of Economic Recessions on the Use of Illicit Drugs: a Systematic Review of Literature and a Meta-Analysis

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Abstract

Subsequently to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world registered a marked economic recession. In 2020, the EU, GDP fell by 6.1 %. In 2021 and 2022, the speed and degree of recovery is still uncertain. As in other recessions, the impact on drug use can be marked. What is the impact of economic recessions on the use of illegal drugs? Several studies were made, but conclusions are diverse and sometimes conflicting. A sharp picture was still difficult to depict. This study aims to fill this gap, systematically summarizing the results of the several empirical studies available.To review the literature the authors did, first, a systematic review of the scientific literature and, second, a hierarchical meta-regression.This study shows that the impact of the economic recessions on drug use cannot be generalized, requiring a detailed analysis by type of drug and user. Among other, it also shows that in periods of recession and high unemployment, young individuals tend to increase their use of illegal drugs more than older populations and; that trend is more marked for cannabis. Additionally, in these periods, an increase in the use of opioids, specially among high-risk opioid users, is observed.This study suggests that in periods of economic recessions, society may particularly benefit from the implementation of wide public prevention programs, especially targeting young populations as well as those periods which best prevent the harms associated to high-risk opioid use. Disclosure of interest statement: The University of A Coruña was supported by EMCDDA to complete the first draft of this study.

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