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YAUTEPEC, Mexico— – After 20 years of cocaine abuse and a yearlong crack addiction, Alfredo decided he needed help and checked himself into a rehabilitation center.
The 45-year-old from Mexico City was spending nearly $1,500 a month on crack. He sold his television, Blackberry and other belongings; he lost his family’s successful elastic tape manufacturing business; and finally, he pawned his recent-model luxury Toyota to the dealer to pay for his habit.
Alfredo enrolled himself in a clinic called Hacienda Yautepec, about an hour and a half south of the country’s sprawling capital in the state of Morelos, where he found himself among 25 other patients, more than two-thirds of them crack addicts. (Alfredo’s full name has been withheld to respect the clinic’s confidentiality policy.)
“I always knew I had a problem, but I denied it,” he said, estimating that he spent more than $35,000 on crack and cocaine in the past year alone. “This is the first time… that I really want to quit.”
Drug rehabilitation professionals in Mexico report a worrisome uptick in crack addiction, part of an overall trend of increased drug consumption in Mexico. A 2008 National Addictions Survey showed crack consumption, albeit still small relative to marijuana and alcohol use, was six times greater than in 2002.
At 0.59 percent, the percentage of people who reported having consumed crack was higher than the reported incidence of heroin, amphetamines and methamphetamines. Cocaine consumption (the statistics for which include crack, as well) doubled over the same period, to 2.4 percent of the population.
“At the root, it’s linked to organized crime,” said Dr. Maria Veronica Allende Nava, director of the Hacienda Yautepec clinic. “They go hand in hand. Crack addicts don’t measure the consequences of their actions. So, of course they rob; they commit crimes; they get involved with kidnappings. It’s a major problem in Mexico. If people don’t want to see it that way it’s because it’s really not convenient for them.”
Mexico for decades served largely as a point of passage for drugs to reach their destination market, the United States. But several factors in the past 10 years conspired to transform Mexico increasingly into a nation of consumers, according to Alberto Islas, a Mexico City based security consultant and producer of the documentary Personal Dose.
Colombian cartels began outsourcing the trafficking of cocaine to Mexican criminal organizations and paid them in cocaine. With heightened U.S. border security after 2001, Mexican cartels began distributing in Mexico to convert the coke to cash and better manage their inventories. A strong peso and large population of young people made the national market additionally attractive to proliferating criminal organizations.
People say it’s not a problem. But everybody has a friend, a boyfriend, a family member or a coworker who is using drugs. We’re in the middle of a drug war and people are still using drugs.
“Drug consumption across all social classes has increased,” Islas said. “It’s not an end but a means: women who use amphetamines to lose weight; truck drivers who use amphetamines to stay awake; barmen and waiters who use cocaine to work a second job. It’s a socialized use of drugs.”
Dr. José Mijangos of the Paraíso rehab clinic in Cuernavaca, Morelos, said he is particularly concerned about crack.
“My opinion is that a national epidemic is on its way,” Mijangos said. “Epidemiologically speaking, addiction can be studied like an epidemic with a predictable course. We can already see what happens in the future.”
Alternately known here as “piedra,” “el caramelo del diablo,” or “la droga del demonio”—rock, the devil’s candy or the demon’s drug—crack is wildly addictive, say addicts and the doctors who treat them.
“It goes right to your brain,” said Ray, a 30-year-old Mexico City architect interned at the Hacienda Yautepec clinic. “The pleasure you feel, it goes away in 10 minutes and you want that sensation again immediately—that’s why it’s so addictive for me. After one smoke, I can’t stop. Nothing else matters. You aren’t conscious of anything—not a son, not a wife, not a family, nothing, not even yourself.”
Ray has a wife and two children, a 5-month-old girl and a 7-year-old son; he said he worries he won’t ever beat the addiction. He might go a year without consuming, he said, “but the obsession will return.”
Dr. Fabian Torres, a therapist at Mexico City’s Clinica Ajusco, has also seen a rise in the number of crack addicts at his clinic. The addiction is “obsessive and compulsive,” he said. “It causes an immediate addiction.”
Drs. Torres, Mijangos and Allende all said the phenomenon is not confined to one region, given that the patients they treat come from around the country. All cite a lack of definitive prevention and anti-drug use programs in the country as one of the principal issues around the rise in consumption.
Islas, the security consultant, agrees.
“People say it’s not a problem,” he said. “But everybody has a friend, a boyfriend, a family member or a coworker who is using drugs. We’re in the middle of a drug war and people are still using drugs.”
Lauren Villagran is a freelance writer based in Mexico.