Safer Drug Use During the COVID-19 Outbreak

The COVID-19 illness (caused by a newly identified type of coronavirus), can cause a respiratory infection and lead to health problems. It’s usually mild and most people recover quickly if they have it, but it can be very serious for people with stressed immune systems or underlying conditions or older adults, so it’s important to stay informed.

The most important thing is to be prepared and knowing what to do will help you. Even if you don’t see a widespread COVID-19 outbreak in your area, the hand-washing and other prevention actions described here are good practices for fighting off bugs like the cold or the flu.

How do people get infected with COVID-19?

COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person by coughing or sneezing and getting exposed to droplets that contain the virus. There are no known risk factors that appear to make a person more or less vulnerable to getting infected with the virus. The main risk is close contact with someone who has it.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The main symptoms feel like the flu or a really bad cold:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue

These symptoms show up between 2 and 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus. People who are considered at increased risk include those with underlying health conditions, including heart disease, lung disease such as asthma/COPD, diabetes, or HIV, or people who are immunocompromised, or over age 60.

How can I prevent COVID-19?

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) can also kill the virus.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue and throw it away in a lined bin, or if you don’t have a tissue, cough into the bend in your elbow. Wash hands with soap and water afterwards.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • When helping someone who is sick, wear gloves to minimise the risk of body fluids that may have COVID-19 from getting into you. Wash your hands before you put on gloves and after you take them off.

If I’m feeling sick, what should I do?

  • Due to ever-changing situation, please refer to the most current Public Health England or NHS advice on what to do should you begin to feel unwell.

Practice Safer Drug Use




Don’t share e-cigs/cigarettes, pipes, bongs or joints, or nasal tubes such as straws. If you have to share, practice harm reduction with your supplies (wipe down the mouthpieces with an alcohol swab before sharing or use separate mouthpieces).

Put used smoking, snorting, and injecting equipment in a SHARP bin so people know they are used.



Use an unused straw, rolled up ‘post-it’ note or clean piece of paper.

Don’t use notes or keys as they harbour infection.

If you are having sex or doing sex work, COVID-19 can be transmitted by close contact like coughing, kissing, or direct contact with bodily fluids. Try to minimise close contact and ensure condom use.


Emergency services will be stretched during a COVID-19 outbreak, and there may be delays responding to emergency calls. Ensure you have naloxone for your own and others’ safety. If you are alone, experiment with using less to lower your risk of overdose, and go slowly. If you are using with others, make an overdose plan with

them and stagger use if possible.



Wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water and prepare your own drugs. Keep your surfaces clean and wipe them down before and after use. If you can’t prepare your own drugs, stay with the person who is. Get them to wash their hands thoroughly, and to clean up before and after.






Clean surfaces where you prepare drugs, before and after use. Before and after handling drugs, wash your hands with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, including after you purchase the drugs. Wipe down drug packages. Wipe down countertops, sinks, doorknobs, and any other surfaces that hands can touch.

If you have access to clean water, wash your hands with soap for 20 seconds (sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice), If you don’t have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Wash after every time you are around other people, such as on public transportation, after purchasing drug packages, etc.

If you are experiencing symptoms or think you’re getting sick don’t go to your local needle exchange. Follow the most current Public Health guidance and seek advice and support if required. If you have HIV or a weakened immune system, it is particularly critical to remember to take all your medications daily.





Work with your local needle exchange to get enough syringes and injecting equipment to last you 2 to 4 weeks. Note: Your local needle exchange may have syringe and supply shortages, so they may not be able to do this.


If possible, try to stock up on your drug of choice, but be safe. Having larger amounts of drugs can be dangerous if you are stopped by the Police or someone is desperate enough to target you for them.


You might lose access to your drug of choice in an outbreak. Consider alternative drugs or medications that could help take the edge off. If facing potential opioid withdrawal, consider buying over the counter medications to make it less difficult (e.g., ibuprofen, Pepto-Bismol, Imodium).