São Paulo Turns to Compulsory Treatment for Crack Addicts

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São Paulo authorities are now able to mandate the hospitalization of crack addicts, as part of the government’s efforts to halt rising demand for the low-cost drug.

The state government has created an Anti-Drugs Commission comprised of judges and lawyers in order to allow the involuntary internment of adults addicted to crack, reported O Globo. If a crack user is picked up and refuses treatment, a judge can order immediate hospitalization if doctors attest that the user is no longer in control of their actions.

Rio de Janeiro tried to adopt a similar measure last year, but human rights groups fought the move on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. Mandatory treatment is generally reserved for minors in the state.

The São Paulo government launched the initiative as part of a drive to eliminate open air drug markets known as “cracolandias,” or “crack lands,” that have sprung up throughout the city due to the increasing use of the drug.

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Government measures to cut crack consumption, like compulsory treatment for addicts, could help slow demand for the drug in Brazil. It is also an intriguing case of a local government in Latin America treating the issue of drug consumption as a health rather than criminal issue. 

As Brazil’s economy has grown and Brazilians’ purchasing power has increased, its market for drugs has also expanded. Brazil is now the largest consumer of cocaine after the United States, and the country accounts for one third of the total cocaine use in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The long, poorly guarded borders that Brazil shares with the world’s three biggest cocaine-producing countries — Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru — make it easy for drug traffickers to move product into Brazil. Concerns about rising domestic drug consumption and the increasing involvement of gangs such as First Capital Command (PCC) and Red Command in cross-border flows of narcotics has driven Brazil to invest more heavily in regional anti-drug efforts and in border security cooperation with its neighbors. 

The gangs have well-organized distribution networks in São Paulo and other cities throughout Brazil which make it easy to obtain crack, as set out in a recent report by NPR. The PCC, the prison gang whose war with the São Paulo police sparked a new wave of violence in the city this year, is believed to be the criminal group most deeply involved in the crack trade.

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