Rossi, Diana; Friedman, Sam; Pawlowicz, María Pía; Singh, Dhan Zunino; Touzé, Graciela; Goltzman, Paula; Bolyard, Melissa; Mateu-Gelabert, Pedro; Maslow, Carey; Sandoval, Milagros Intercambios Civil Association, Argentina/ National Development and Research Institutes, United States/ Intercambios Civil Association, Argentina/ National Development and Research Institutes United States
Argentina went through an economic crisis and political transition in 2001-2002. The economic crisis of 2001 can actually be traced back to the 1980s, when Argentina struggled with high inflation and industrial stagnation that peaked in the 1990s. The 2001 crisis greatly decreased wages while increasing poverty. In other countries, crises and transitions have been followed by massive increases in drug use and drug injection. Concerned that similar processes might occur in Argentina, we interviewed 235 non-IDUs and 68 current IDUs (aged 21-35) during 2003-2004 in poor neighborhoods in the southern part of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area. We found no evidence that the 2001 crisis had augmented the use of time in consuming drugs among either non-IDUs or IDUs; indeed, drug injection seems to have decreased in the study neighborhoods. Other drug trends may have resulted from the transition and crisis, however. To identify the new trends we planned a consultation among front line workers of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area. Here, we present data on new patterns of drug use, particularly the use of coca paste in poor areas with high unemployment and poverty. Coca paste (also called basuco in some Latin American countries) is an intermediate step in the manufacturing process between coca leaves and purified cocaine. In 2005, we developed a short questionnaire for a rapid assessment and response among community leaders and professionals of the health care system of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area. Perceptions about changes in drug use and/or injection were investigated. Seventy-seven front-line workers from Metropolitan Buenos Aires answered the questionnaire, including career professors of Social Work of the Buenos Aires University; members of community-based organizations; nurses, medical doctors, psychologists and social workers from hospitals and health care centers. Most respondents reported that they either knew or thought that coca paste use among young and poor drug users of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area had expanded. The majority believed that this change had taken place in the last four years and that coca paste use was most common among younger males. They also thought that the extent of injection drug use had declined, although no evidence has been found that a majority of former injectors became coca paste users. Changes in the drug market together with the economic and social crises in Buenos Aires seem to have created a coca paste outbreak, which is perceived by front¬line respondents as the most troubling drug use of the current moment. Coca paste use is probably less harmful than injection drug use in terms of blood and sexual transmission of infections, nevertheless, specific healthcare-related problems associated with its use need to be identified. These findings require further investigation to better understand their implications.