Addiction to “Poor Man’s Cocaine” Reported Up in Mexican Border City

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Amid economic calamity and violent upheaval, crack cocaine use flourishes in Ciudad Juarez. While he did not disclose specific statistics, the coordinator of drug addiction treatment programs in the Mexican border city told a local reporter the number of people seeking help for addiction to the “Poor Man’s Cocaine” increased markedly during the last two years.

“Crack is among high-impact drugs,” said Raul Montoya Jara, Ciudad Juarez coordinator for drug treatment programs run by the state government of Chihuahua. “When we speak of a person who goes for treatment, it is not because of marijuana but because of hard drugs.”

According to Montoya, the typical Ciudad Juarez crack addict consumes multiple doses of the drug every day, sometimes mixing crack with other illegal substances. Crack is very cheap on the local market, costing less than two dollars a dose, Montoya said. Some users spend about $20 every day to feed their habit, he added.

In Ciudad Juarez, a hit of crack is cheaper than even an economical meal in a budget restaurant.

The spike in crack use in Ciudad Juarez coincides with massive lay-offs in the export assembly, or maquiladora, industry since 2007. Soledad Maynez Bribiesca, president of the Ciudad Juarez Maquiladora Association, an industry trade group, recently said the city had lost 120,000 jobs in the maquiladora sector since January 2008. Since factory jobs supported other indirect jobs, Maynez estimated that 300,000 jobs have been lost overall.

“This is worrisome if we consider that the labor force of the city is 850,000 or 900,000 people”, Maynez said. “It means that 30 percent of the labor force has remained without work, and this is an expression of the depression in the city.”

Montoya estimated that 80 percent of local crack addicts are unemployed, a situation that encourages robberies by users anxious to get their fix.

Ciudad Juarez crack addicts trying to get off the drug don’t have much of a support infrastructure to help them.

In earlier comments to the press, Montoya said the majority of the 60 drug treatment centers in Ciudad Juarez were run by non-governmental organizations that stress religious commitments or 12-step programs similar to the ones developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Most private centers charge fees and don’t always contain in-patient facilities, Montoya added.

Since 2008, a handful of addicts have been sent to such centers by Chihuahua state judges under a new legal reform.

Hugo Sanchez, director of La Esperanza drug treatment center, said his organization offers “Christ Therapy” in addition to referrals to medical specialists.

“We don’t have (addicts) here permanently,” Sanchez said, “but we also take them to the doctor’s office.”

According to the Chihuahua State Council against Addictions, 14 drug rehabilitation centers have shut down in Ciudad Juarez since 2008. The closures have reduced the number of available beds from 2,500 last year to less than 2,000 in 2009.

Montoya said that 95 percent of the federal budget for drug control goes to directly combat drug trafficking, while 5 percent is allocated for the rehabilitation of addicts. A newer center in Ciudad Juarez, the Center for Primary Attention to Addictions (CAPA), was built with part of the millions confiscated two years ago from Chinese-origin businessman Zhenli Ye Gon, who was suspected of supplying precursor agents for the manufacture of methamphetamines. CAPA, however, is a drug abuse prevention project rather than an addiction recovery facility.

According to Montoya, a recent survey found that between 200,000 and 250,000 people in Ciudad Juarez, or about one in seven residents, had used at least once an illegal drug, usually marijuana. Montoya estimated that 30,000 drug addicts live in Ciudad Juarez. If the drug treatment professional’s numbers are accurate, the local retail market in illicit drugs could be worth at least $200 million per year.

Sources: Norte, May 17 and 24, 2009. Articles by Antonio Rebolledo and Salvador Castro. El Diario de Juarez, April 17, 2009. Articles by Pedro Sanchez Briones.


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