UK & World News

  • 26 June 2014, 19:39

Sao Paulo Drug Addicts Gripped By 'Cracklands'

Brazil's leading addiction expert has told Sky News a generation of young people are being lost to the country's growing crack epidemic.

Ronaldo Laranjeira said the problem with crack use has become so acute over the last decade it is like a war.

He claimed the latest research shows one-third of all users die within 12 years of getting hooked.

"We say they're like zombies because they've lost a lot of weight ... they've lost some of humanity," he said.

"That's why the crack can produce a sort of brain damage - if you use crack cocaine for years on end, the structure of your brain changes."

Many of Brazil's cities now have places known as 'Cracolandias', or Cracklands.

They are open street markets where the highly addictive drug is bought and consumed.

Prince Harry visited one of the worst areas in Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, as his tour of the country came to an end.

Amid chaotic scenes, he went round an open-air medical centre and a street cleaning depot where recovering addicts are employed.

He was accompanied by Mayor Fernando Haddad, who explained how the authorities have adopted a policy of providing housing, food and work for addicts in a bid to tackle the drug problem.

The Prince recently described how he was reduced to tears by the moving stories of young Brazilian children who had lost parents to drugs, violence or prison.

Sao Paulo's Cracolandia is dangerous and chaotic, with rambling users lighting-up openly under the gaze of the police who look intimidated.

Addict Bruna told Sky News there are often fights and people will commit murder for the cost of a hit of the drug.

Crack cocaine in such areas has effectively been decriminalised.

The problem is so big the best the authorities can do to contain it is to try and stop it spreading to other neighbourhoods.

Recovering addict Desiree, who has been clean for three years, said the crack epidemic is destroying parts of Brazil.

"You use it and in five seconds it goes to your mind and you need the drugs every time," she said.

"It's an epidemic in Brazil. It's terrible. When you look, it's a war."

There are more than one million users in Brazil - about 1% of the adult population - and the social cost of rising crime is enormous.

As the economy has grown, so too has the appetite for drugs.

Competition among the drug lords means prices are kept low and a user can stay high all day for just a few pounds.

Clarice Sandi Madrugo, a substance abuse researcher, said it is because of this that crack is so deadly.

"It's much easier to get crack than getting anything else and we're talking about a very addictive drug that's the cheapest in the world," he said.

"Brazil has the cheapest crack cocaine in the world."

Sao Paulo has set up a number of treatment centres to help addicts but in most cities there is little in the way of drug policy.

Experts claim it means Brazil's struggle with the crack cocaine addiction is likely to get worse before it gets better. 

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