Global Integrative Studies, School of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Abadie, R. “The Drug SellersWere Better Organized than the Government”: A Qualitative Study of Participants’ Views of Drug Markets during COVID-19 and Other Big Events. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2023, 20, 1295. https://


Open access.


“Big events”, such as wars, economic crises, pandemics, or natural disasters, affect the risk environment in which people use drugs. While the impact of big events on injection risk behaviors and access to drug-treatment services is well documented, less is known about the effects of big events on drug markets. Based on self-reporting data on drug availability among people who use drugs (PWUD) in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and during the COVID- 19 lockdown in a Midwestern US state, this study aims to document the effects of big events on drug markets. Qualitative data on the effects of Hurricane Maria on drug markets are based on participants’ self-reporting (N = 31). Data collection started after the hurricane and ended in 2020. Data on changes to the drug supply during the COVID-19 lockdown were collected based on semistructured interviews with PWUD (N = 40) in a Midwestern US state. Findings show that while the drug markets might have initially been affected by big events, most effects were temporary. Drug availability, pricing, and quality might have suffered some initial fluctuations but stabilized as the drug markets absorbed the initial shocks caused by the hurricane and the lockdown measures. In preparation for increasingly more frequent and virulent pandemics and natural disasters, health infrastructures should be strengthened to prevent not only overdose episodes and deaths but also drug-related harms.