Door 8: Cocaine is not talked about here | Opinion

A woman cries after learning of the death of her brother due to the consumption of adulterated cocaine, this Friday in Buenos Aires.
A woman cries after learning of the death of her brother due to the consumption of adulterated cocaine, this Friday in Buenos Aires.Rodrigo Abd (AP)

There is another way to do the things. That should be the main conclusion of what happened in Argentina, where at least 24 people died and another 84 were hospitalized for the consumption of a substance with a high level of toxicity. The irony of this sad case is that the sale and consumption of this substance occurred under a prohibitionist system, under the constant and frontal fight against drugs.

A fight that has brought more harm than good to Latin America without reducing consumption in the world: the maintenance of a large illegal and lucrative market, the increase in sentences and prison population, the increase in levels of violence, the affectation of people and most vulnerable communities, the deterioration of human rights and the prioritization of public resources (poorly invested) in security over public health.

Given the event that occurred in Argentina, the long-term response should be to open a discussion on regulating these markets. However, as this conversation begins and progresses between producer and consumer countries, in the short term there are things we could be doing to prevent these situations from happening again. Actions that do not violate international drug agreements and that depend largely on political will.

On the demand side, one of the biggest problems caused by the ban is the lack of access to accurate and truthful information on how to minimize the risks and harm associated with the use of psychoactive substances. This is vital because regardless of our position on consumption, the market already exists despite the ban. Anyone who wants to consume has where to buy.

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Something as simple and valuable as knowing the effects that a substance can cause, if it is a good idea to mix it with another; taking into account the presentation, the dosage and the necessary precautions can avoid problematic consumption and deaths due to overdose. Although there are organizations that provide good information in this regard, it is not always easy to access them. Why? Mainly due to the stigmatization and criminalization around consumers.

It’s the ‘don’t talk about Bruno’ logic: we know that, despite the ban, there is a market and that people consume. In most cities, in fact, almost everyone knows (including the authorities) where to go shopping. However, we prefer not to talk about it. It is taboo and uncomfortable. As a consequence, we do not address the issue in schools, universities, offices and families beyond a “no drugs”. The market continues, but without information, so that those who participate equally in it do not always know how to move to reduce potential damage.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to have this discussion, in part because of the narrative that the war on drugs has promoted. But, as sons, daughters, fathers and mothers, students, friends, we should demand that information that will help us protect and even save lives.

Another great barrier created by the ban is that the health system of several countries in the region is not prepared, interested or financed to deal with problematic consumption. This has two big consequences. The first is that a very large space is left for private initiatives led by people or communities with little knowledge to fill this gap, especially to serve low-income people. Some of the tools used, without any evidence to support them, are throwing cold water, prioritizing abstinence, locking up against will, tying to bed, or religious discipline. Once again, more damage is done to park a problem out of sight of society (again, “let’s not talk about Bruno”).

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But in addition, by continuing to treat drugs exclusively as a security problem, public investment in risk and harm reduction strategies is blocked. As a consequence, it is civil society organizations that in various countries of the region provide these services with few resources and visibility. Some examples of strategies that we know work thanks to the accumulated evidence are syringe exchange programs, supervised consumption rooms or drug checking.

Let us imagine, for example, that the people of Puerta 8, who consumed the adulterated cocaine, would have had access to a whole network of information and health protection: points of analysis of the purchased substance, supervised consumption rooms, transparent information on how the market operates , support references if necessary; in short, a context in which “there is talk of Bruno” (of consumption) in its proper dimension and measure, focused on minimizing the potential damage of the consumption of psychoactive substances. The initial risk for all of them of having consumed the adulterated drug would have been lower, and in this context there would already be relationships and protection mechanisms between health providers and consumers, based on the trust that is only built through encounters repeated in a safe environment designed to reduce excursion.

We have been treating drugs for half a century as a global threat, when they can be tackled in a more cost-efficient way than prohibition: one that prioritizes autonomy, health and respect for human rights. One wonders how many more tragedies like the one that is taking place right now in Argentina are we willing and willing to have in the name of a useless, costly and harmful war.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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