SAO PAULO – Brazil's most populous and wealthiest state expanded its attack on crack cocaine abuse on Thursday by unveiling a program that will provide about $650 a month in subsidies for the rehabilitation of addicts at private treatment centers.
In announcing the program, Sao Paulo State Governor Geraldo Alckmin said 1 ,350 reals will be earmarked monthly for each crack user aged 18 or more who voluntarily enrolls in a rehabilitation program that is expected to get under way in two months in 11 cities.
The state will give the money to accredited rehabilitation centers when clients present a "Begin Again" card they receive after enrolling in a program. The cards are valid for six months, the time considered necessary for rehabilitation.
Alckmin said that each of the 11 cities in the program will decide the criteria that determine if drug users are eligible.
The city of Sao Paulo itself was not included because users in the state capital are served by a network of public treatment centers.
Alckmin said the state will invest 4 million reals ($2 million) a month in the program that will benefit 3,000 users.
Demand for crack has boomed in recent years and open-air "cracolandias," or "cracklands," are found in the urban centers of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, with hundreds of users gathering to smoke the drug.
A recent study by the Federal University of Sao Paulo found that Brazil is now the world's largest consumer of both cocaine and its crack derivative. About 6 million adults have tried cocaine in some form.
Last year, the federal government announced that more than $2 billion would be spent to fight the epidemic, allotting money to train health care workers, buy thousands of hospital and shelter beds, and create transitional centers for recovering users.
Alckmin said that the Begin Again card "is a passport to a new life."
"This program will help drug users re-establish ties with their families and their friends. It will offer professional and cultural workshops and help them find jobs. In short it will help reinsert them into society."