Increase in drugs-of-abuse findings in post-mortem toxicology due to COVID-19 restrictions-First observations in Finland

Drug Test Anal. 2021 Apr;13(4):867-870. doi: 10.1002/dta.2982. Epub 2020 Dec 2.


A lot has been published on the anticipated effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic on users of illegal drugs. In this study, we present evidence-based data on such effects, namely, the increased number of drug findings in post-mortem investigations. All post-mortem toxicology cases positive for at least one of the following: buprenorphine, amphetamine or cannabis, were investigated in the first 8 months of the year 2020, and the monthly numbers were compared to those in the previous 5 years from 2015 to 2019. These substances served as indicator analytes that could reveal changes in the drug using population. Right after the government restrictions came into force in March 2020, the numbers of buprenorphine, amphetamine and cannabis findings increased. The increase was most noticeable for amphetamine and was evident in all age groups. Our findings indicate that the assumptions on the increased risk of drug-related harm (including death) have become reality. Reduced access to harm-reduction services seems to have increased the mortality among individuals that use buprenorphine, amphetamine or cannabis. Significant and prompt actions need to be taken in order to find new ways in helping this vulnerable group of people.

Keywords: COVID-19; drug-related death; harm-reduction; post-mortem toxicology.

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / analysis
  • Analgesics, Opioid / analysis
  • Autopsy
  • Buprenorphine / analysis
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / analysis
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / analysis
  • Dronabinol / analogs & derivatives
  • Dronabinol / analysis
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Forensic Toxicology*
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / analysis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Buprenorphine
  • 11-nor-delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol-9-carboxylic acid
  • Dronabinol
  • Amphetamine