Brazilian authorities fight the crack epidemic with police and drug treatment
By Dialogo February 09, 2014
Brazilian security and health officials are teaming up to attack the country’s crack epidemic by arresting organized crime operatives who sell drugs and also providing prevention services and treatment to addicts.
Since 2008, crack use and domestic crack sales have soared in Brazil, authorities said.
Brazil, which has a population of 199 million people, has nearly 1 million crack users, according to the United Nations. Brazil has the third highest number of crack users in the world, behind the United States and the European Union, according to the UN.
Brazil’s Federal Police and the Security Commission of the Chamber of Deputies estimate that Brazilians consume about 1 ton of drugs every day.
Most of the drug users are young, according to a study conducted in 2012 by São Paulo State University (UNESP). The study found that 72 percent of drug users in the country are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 17 percent are between the ages of 12 and 17.
Going after drug dealers
Security forces recently carried out an operation in a neighborhood where drug dealing is rampant.
On Jan. 23, 2014, Civil Police agents conducted a security operation in the city center of São Paulo, where dozens of crack users congregate to buy and use drugs in an area known as “Crackland” (“Cracolandia”).
A dozen police vehicles surrounded the two blocks which comprise Crackland. Some of the drug users responded by throwing rocks and sticks at police agents. At the end of the operation, police agents arrested 30 people, according to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo. Four of the suspects are accused of drug dealing, officials said.
Police began security operations in Crackland in early 2012, in an effort to move out the crack dealers and addicts, officials said. According to authorities, from December 1, 2013 to January 24, 69 traffickers have been arrested in the city of São Paulo.
More police patrols
Authorities have doubled the number of police officers assigned to combat the crack epidemic in São Paulo, according to published reports. About 300 police agents patrol the streets of the city every day. Police identify, question, and register drug trafficking suspects in Crackland.
The Crackland in São Paulo includes abandoned buildings which addicts live in. Some addicts live in the Julio Prestes Train Station.
Police in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Belo Horizonte, to name a few, are also carrying out security operations to eliminate their crack zones, said Néstor Rosanía, director of the Center for Studies in Security, Defense, and International Affairs (CESDAI) in Colombia.
“The crack epidemic is a drug trafficking, micro-trafficking, and health issue. We must address the various situations, Rosanía said. Crack is “the drug of the poor,” Rosanía said.
Helping drug addicts
A few days before the security operation in São Paulo, health officials in that launched a rehabilitation program for crack users called “Open Arms.” The program began on Jan. 16, 2014.
The program offers drug treatment services, medical care, housing and and jobs to 400 crack addicts. The goal is to help crack addicts stop using drugs and rejoin society.
Security efforts, such as the initiative against Crackland by São Paulo police, support drug treatment programs, Fernando Grella Viera, the Secretary of Public Security, said during a Jan. 24, 2014 press conference.
“The action of the police to identify and arrest traffickers serves to strengthen social and health programs of the city and state government because addicts are hostage to traffickers,” Grella Viera said. “So when we fight drug trafficking, we strengthen these programs.”
The economics of crack
A kilo of cocaine paste produces about four kilos of crack, according to police. Each kilo of crack can be broken down into 4,000 rocks of crack, which are sold on the street. Each rock sells for $2 (USD) or $4 (USD), depending on the size. Drug dealers sell about $10 million worth of crack every day, according to El Pais.
Most of the coca paste that is turned into crack in Brazil comes from Bolivia and Colombia. The paste is transformed into crack rocks in illegal laboratories in the Amazon, according to O Globo.
Crack is highly addictive. The drug quickly attacks the pleasure centers of the brain, creating an intense feeling of euphoria. But the euphoria fades within minutes, and users want more crack.
The drug I sold in about 90 percent of Brazil’s 5,563 municipalities, according to the National Confederation of Municipalities.
The coca paste that is consumed in Brazil comes mainly from Bolivia and Colombia. The paste is transformed into crack rocks in illegal laboratories in the Amazon, according to O Globo. In Brazil, there are 29 ‘cracolandias’ scattered in 17 areas of the country.
“The crack epidemic is a difficult phenomenon to combat. The Brazilian government’s efforts should come together to form an interagency process in which all agencies, whether public or private, collaborate with a plan of action to combat the crack epidemic,” Rosanía said.
Organized crime and crack
Brazil has not only become a drug-consuming country, but it has also become a haven for drug traffickers, fugitives, and a bridge for the distribution of drugs to Europe and West Africa.
Three organized crime groups control the drug trafficking in Brazil: The First Command of the Capital (PCC), the Red Command, and the Pure Third Command.
“Drug cartels have their eyes on South America. Brazil is an excellent market for cocaine in light of the difficulties there are in entering the U.S. and Europe. Violence and prostitution is growing in Brazil due to the unwanted use of crack cocaine,” Rosanía said.
Brazilian authorities are working in coordination with the U.S. government to develop successful strategies to reduce the problem, according to published reports.
Given the seriousness of the situation, cooperation in security and information sharing between Brazil and countries in the region is key in the fight against the surge of crack cocaine. “Cracklands could spread to other countries,” Rosanía said.