Illicit drug consumption in Colombia has increased by 38% over the past five years, with the largest demographic increase coming among 18-24 year-olds, according to a recent survey on drug consumption in the country.
More than 30,000 Colombians between the ages of 12 and 65 took part in the 2013 National Study of the Consumption of Psychoactive Substances in Colombia, which was co-sponsored by the United Nations (UN), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the United States Embassy in Colombia.
No such investigation had been conducted since 2008, when the Colombian government administered its own study.
The findings confirmed previous understandings of the international drug conflict, namely, that drug consumption in Colombia, a leading international producer of cocaine, marijuana, and — to a lesser extent — heroine, is much lower than in developed countries the Colombian drug trade ships to.
In the United States, for example, the prevalence of cocaine and marijuana use is three times and six times as high as in Colombia, respectively, according to the latest United Nations statistics.
Among the study’s other important conclusions, the authors highlight that the consumption illicit substances increased by 50% among 18-24 year-olds.
While the study found that less than 2% of Colombian women consume illicit substances, drug consumption increased by 27% among women between 2008 and 2013, with men’s drug consumption, already more prevalent, increasing by 38%.
Drug use among Colombians
2013 drug consumption compared to that of 2008
Misconceptions regarding risk
Colombians perceive cocaine as posing a greater health risk than the notoriously cheap “basuco,” an inhalant made from the toxic byproducts of cocaine production, according to the study, which reported figures that would represent a 46% increase in basuco addiction over the past five years, as compared to the 2008 statistics.
Ninety-five percent of Colombians consider frequent use of cocaine to be extremely harmful, significantly higher than the 85% who believe basuco poses significant health risks.
This perception runs contrary to evidence that demonstrates basuco is far more addictive than cocaine: 78% of those who have used basuco in the past year are considered “problem users” — those who abuse or depend on the drug — as compared with 60% for cocaine users.
The apparent misconception regarding the real dangers of cocaine and basuco coincide with a slight decrease in cocaine use and a sharp rise in the number of basuco addiction, which claimed 26,471 people in 2008 and 38,807 in 2013.
Pot most popular of illicit drugs
The study reported that, as with the majority of the countries in the world, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in Colombia.
Over 11% of Colombians surveyed have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime, with a significantly higher percentage of men (17.6%) having tried marijuana than women (5.6%).
The report showed a 70% increase in the prevalence of recent marijuana use overall, as compared to the 2008 study.
Of the 3.3% of survey participants to use marijuana at least once during the past year, approximately 62% of them are between the ages of 12 and 24. Nearly 87% of marijuana users are less than 34 years-old.
In Colombia, often referred to as the cocaine capital of the world, with only 3.2% of those surveyed admitted to having tried cocaine once in their lifetime.
Again, there was a marked gender difference in use patterns, with men five times more likely than women to have tried cocaine and eight times more likely to experience cocaine dependency and abuse.
While 3.2% of the population have dabbled at least once in the white powder, regular cocaine use is significantly lower, with only 0.7% of the population (roughly 329,000 people) having used cocaine in the past year.
The 18 to 24 year age group displays the highest concentration of cocaine users, with nearly 2% of people within that demographic (roughly 78,000 people) having tried it in the past year.
Consumption of cocaine slightly decreased since 2008.
Six out of every 10 people who consume basuco will experience dependency issues, according to the study. People from Colombia’s two lowest socio-economic brackets represent approximately 90% of all basuco dependents or abusers.
As opposed to other illicit substances whose adverse effects are mostly prevalent in the 18-24 age group, people with problematic consumption of basuco are mostly in the 25-34 age bracket, and most users within that group are considered dependents or addicts.
The study found that basuco dependency affects men far more than women, with men accounting for 45,000 of the 49,000 recent users of basuco.
Young people between the ages of 12 and 24 are the most vulnerable when it comes to basuco consumption as they registered the least concern when it came to the perceived dangers of the drug.
One third of the population believe it is relatively easy to acquire basuco.
Ecstasy has been tried by 0.7% of the Colombian population at least once in their lifetime, again with a distinct difference between men (0.3%) and women (0.1%). Again, the 18 to 24 demographic are the most prevalent users of ecstasy, with some 28,000 young people having used the drug in the past year.
Over 90% of those surveyed considered frequent use of ecstasy to be detrimental to one’s health.
The study found that heroin addiction has increased in Colombia in recent years, according to reports from various rehabilitation centers. Estimates indicate that more than 7,000 people consumed heroin within the past month.