Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro on Monday said that the treatment of illicit drug addiction through the substitution of “minor impact drugs” such as marijuana and cocaine will be based on “scientific investigation.”
On a visit to Bogota’s troubled Bronx district Monday, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and the mayor reviewed security issues in the area. Petro also reiterated his commitment to drug rehabilitation that will be based on “scientific research.”
“A scientific investigation will be initiated to determine the viability of treating drug addictions of the homeless on the street, with the administration of minor impact drugs, like marijuana or cocaine,” said Petro.
In August 2012, the colorful mayor floated an initiative to prescribe addicts with illicit drugs should they fit a strict set of criteria, citing violence and crime as the results of small-scale consumption and trafficking of drugs. The proposal caused a flurry of controversy, with the country’s Prosecutor General accusing Petro of “creating a criminal policy to reduce crime, murders and robberies.”
Santos also took a tentative approach to the proposal, initially calling it “irresponsible.” However the government approved the idea in September 2012 and work began in pilot areas like the beleaguered Bronx district of Colombia’s capital.
Petro said that the drug treatment program was now in its second stage of scientific investigation “to determine the viability of addiction treatment of the homeless by administering softer drugs like marijuana and cocaine.”
The main drug of choice in the district among street people is bazuco, an extremely dangerous cocaine derivative that causes major dependency.
Bazuco addiction impacts memory function and can cause irreversible damage to the brain, liver and lungs and causes aggressive behavior and physical destruction. It has been described by users as “truly uncontrollable.” On average one hit of the drug costs about $2.75, making it easily affordable.
The drug is so cheap as it only takes one gram of cocaine to make a kilo of bazuco, meaning that the 999 remaining grams are constituted of ingredients like solvents, sulfuric acid, gasoline and even ground-up bricks.
The biggest problem with bazuco is the fact that it can be produced and sold at street-level, without the need for big cartels. This means that the police have to break up many more, smaller gangs to tackle the distribution of the drug.
In 2012 Santos announced that he was intending to hire 20,000 more police officers to focus on busting bazuco dealers and weakening micro-traffickers.
Petro cited widespread programs in Europe as the model for his treatment centers. In many European countries the use of methadone and other substitutes to treat heroin addiction has been in place for decades. The first programs began in the late 1960s in Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark.
A 2009 Irish study showed that drug treatment reduced drug use, involvement in crime and improved chances of going back to work.
Methadone treatment has also been proven to be cost effective. A British study found that for every £1 (US $1.51) spent on treatment there is a return of almost £3 (US $4.53) in terms of savings associated with victim costs due to crime.
A large body of scientific evidence suggests that methadone treatment is a safe substitution, reducing the risk of HIV infection and improving physical and mental health and quality of life, also reduction in criminal activities.
However patterns of polydrug use have shown to be a big problem, with European studies showing around 30% of polydrug use in patients being treated. High levels in co-use of cocaine, crack, marijuana and alcohol are associated with “significantly poorer treatment outcomes,” according to an Irish study.
The safety of Petro’s suggested substitute drugs – marijuana and cocaine – may be questionable, with an Irish Department of Health representative noting that “one thing I can say is no service provider in Ireland offers softer drugs such as marijuana or cocaine to (heroin) addicts.”
Santos, who was shown the latest cache of seized drugs and weapons during his visit Monday, called the Bronx “an actual crime factory.” However Petro highlighted the reduction of homicides in the district, saying that since the organized police intervention 70 days ago, there have been no murders where previously they were a regular occurrence.
- Santos anuncio guerra con los ‘ollas’ de paz (El Tiempo)
- Santos y Petro en el Bronx (El Tiempo)
- Bazuco the cheapest drug on Colombia’s streets (InfoSurHoy)
- UN visits Bogota to discuss drug consumption centers (Colombia Reports)
- Bogota proposal to create drug consumption centers ‘irresponsible:’ Santos (Colombia Reports)
- New research shows drug treatment reduces use, involvement in crime (NACD)
- Methadone maintainance treatment in Spain (WHO)
- Methadone guidlines (EuroMeth)
- Drugs and alcohol (drugs.ie)
- Petro anuncia investigaciones cientificas en el Bronx (Radio Caracol)
- Interview Department of Health, Ireland
- Email and reports from the Irish Health Service Executive