Cocaine Use has Increased in the World. What Effect Does this Have on Public Health?

Cocaine use has increased worldwide. This poses new challenges for the public health and anti-drug approach.

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LatinAmerican Post | María Fernanda Ramírez Ramos

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Leer en español: Aumentó el consumo de cocaína en el mundo ¿Qué efecto tiene esto en la salud pública?

Global cocaine production has skyrocketed in the past two years. This is stated in the World Cocaine Report 2023. The data indicates that coca cultivation grew up 35% from 2020 to 2021. This is a record figure, which corresponds to the increase in cocaine use in the world. Additionally, the report indicates that there have been innovations in the transformation of the coca leaf into cocaine hydrochloride, which facilitate the process.

"Many regions have recorded a steady increase in cocaine users over the past decade," said a UN statement. Despite the fact that the largest cocaine market is in North America and Europe, its use has increased considerably in other regions, especially in Africa and Asia. Regarding demand, "the estimated number of users worldwide has grown steadily over the past 15 years, driven in part by population growth, but also by a gradual increase in long-term prevalence," says the report. This also indicates that the United Kingdom, France, and Australia tend towards a more intensive consumption. Also, ports in the North Sea such as Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Hamburg are becoming new distribution hubs.

The market and consumption of cocaine in Latin America

Latin America continues to have the largest cultivation and production of cocaine. However, the channels and traffic networks have changed. Colombia has ceased to have the leading role it had in the past decade and trafficking networks are organized between countries, as well as new actors have entered. "The dominant role of Colombia's ports as a starting point appears to be waning, and traffickers are increasingly transiting their product through Central America and other South American countries," notes the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), who made the report.

Regarding consumption, the report indicates that the consumption of cocaine that is smoked, known as crack or basuco, is especially pronounced in South America and some countries in Central America and the Caribbean. The country with the largest domestic market in this region is Brazil, with a cocaine consumption rate of 1.7% for insufflated cocaine and 0.8% for smoked cocaine among its population over 14 years of age. On the other hand, it is shown that in Bolivia, 90% of cocaine seizures are paste, that is, an intermediate product, while in Colombia it is 55%. This shows their condition as producing or cultivating countries rather than producers.

According to data presented in the World Drug Report 2021, it is estimated that in 2019 almost 3 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 in the region had used cocaine in the previous year. This data contrasts with the 13.9 million consumers that occurred in the European Union, according to the same report.

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Public health or safety issue?

The production and consumption of cocaine has had a majority of focus from the issue of security and the fight against drug trafficking. However, if there is demand, there is production. For this reason, various politicians and experts are calling for a change in world drug policy so that it is addressed with a comprehensive approach that considers public health. One prominent group is the Global Commission on Drug Policy, made up of well-known figures such as former presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and senior officials, who call for: prioritizing public health;
guarantee access to controlled medicines and decriminalize personal consumption and possession, among other issues. The current policy is unfair to the producing countries, which are usually the ones with the least consumption, but their population suffers the greatest violence and stigmatization.

Dangers of cocaine use

Cocaine use can have several negative effects on physical and mental health, which have been documented in various investigations. Some of the most common negative effects are as follows:

  • Physical health problems: Cocaine use can cause a number of physical health problems, including increased blood pressure, breathing problems, chest pain, heart damage, and liver damage. In addition, it can also increase the risk of having a stroke or heart attack. A 2021 publication in The Cureus Journal of Medical Science noted that: "Cocaine use is common and is associated with cardiovascular adverse effects. Cocaine can cause acute complications, including arrhythmias, chest pain, and myocardial infarction, but prolonged use Cocaine use may also be associated with valvular disease, structural heart disease, and ischemic heart disease."

  • Addiction: Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, which means that its use can lead to physical and psychological dependence. People who use cocaine regularly can experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop using it. Likewise, this addiction can trigger family, social and legal damage.

  • Mental health issues: Cocaine use can also have negative effects on mental health. It can increase the risk of developing anxiety, depression, and psychosis problems. It can also make symptoms worse for people who already have mental health issues.

  • Brain damage: Cocaine use can damage the brain in the long term, which can lead to difficulties with memory, attention, and coordination. It can also affect decision-making ability and judgment.

In summary, cocaine use can have several negative effects on physical and mental health, as well as on social and work life. Therefore, it is important to take steps to prevent its use and to seek help if you are dealing with an addiction to this drug.

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