More South America Teens Using Cocaine: Report

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The Organization of American States’ (OAS) latest drug consumption report (pdf) highlights shifting trends when it comes to drug use among youths in the Western Hemisphere, trends that regional leaders would do well to stay ahead of. 

One particularly noteworthy trend is changing cocaine consumption among high school students in South America, especially when compared to the United States — the region’s largest overall drug consumer. While cocaine use among US high school students has steadily declined since peaking in 1998, consumption by their peers in South America has generally increased, most notably in Argentina and Uruguay, and less so in other nations like Chile and Brazil, the OAS said.

In terms of South American countries with the highest rate of students reporting that they used cocaine in the past year, Chile ranks first, followed by Argentina and Colombia. 

Meanwhile, Argentina had the highest percentage of high school students who reported that it was easy to get cocaine, while Uruguay — the only country in the world with a legal market for marijuana — had the highest number of students who said it was easy to access marijuana. 

Uruguay also had the fewest number of high school students who think that occasional marijuana use is risky, the OAS report showed. Far more students in the US reported seeing cocaine use as risky, compared to other countries in the Western Hemisphere, like Colombia, Chile, and Argentina.

In terms of broader trends, the OAS report noted that while heroin consumption has traditionally been restricted to North America, a number of South American and Caribbean nations have reported increased use and demand for treatment. The problem is “in its infancy” but should be “monitored closely,” the OAS report added. Outside of this general observation, the report did not include more specific data that would point to greater prevalence of heroin use outside of North America.  

The OAS report also noted that in terms of synthetic drug use in the Western Hemisphere, the US has one of the “largest and most diversified” markets for such substances in the world, especially when it comes to synthetic marijuana. While there is evidence of synthetic drug consumption in South America — including use of drugs sold as LSD or ecstacy when they are in fact a mixture of other chemical compounds — the market in countries like Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico does not appear to be as diverse as it is in the US, given the available data. 

InSight Crime Analysis

Increased cocaine use among high school students in South America may be reflective of a broader trend: transnational drug trafficking groups are focusing more on feeding this local market — particularly Argentina and Brazil — rather than supplying the United States. This dynamic has given rise to powerful, wealthy crime networks intent on shipping cocaine from Peru and Bolivia to the Southern Cone, rather than moving drug shipments northwards to the US.  

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Drug Policy

The OAS report is also correct to note that the issue of heroin consumption in South America and the Caribbean is worth tracking closely — although it is unfortunate the report did not include more complete numbers about the extent of this problem. The flood of cheap Mexican heroin into the US has created major health problems in states like New Mexico — the possibility of seeing a similar scenario develop in South America could have major ramifications, both in terms of public health issues and organized crime.  

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