New drug use survey offers a look at substance habits in Brazil

. Aug 10, 2019
New drug use survey offers a look at substance habits in Brazil

In 2015, a drug decriminalization bill reached the Supreme Court. However, after a meeting with the vehemently anti-drugs President Jair Bolsonaro, Chief Justice Dias Toffoli decided to shelve the program.

Meanwhile, the Senate has approved supplementary law 37, which tightens up drug legislation and develops treatment centers, strengthening programs for voluntary treatment. The bill has yet to be sanctioned by Mr. Bolsonaro. In May, the president approved a decree that establishes abstinence as the only treatment of drug addiction. Moreover, Brazil is one of the only South American countries that doesn’t differentiate drug users from drug traffickers in the eyes of the law

</p> <p>While the president goes about strengthening drug legislation, his government <a href="">censored</a> the Third National Survey on Drug Use by the Brazilian Population, conducted by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation—a health organization linked to the Ministry of Health—in partnership with Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), National Cancer Institute (Inca) and Princeton University. The study surveyed 16 million Brazilians aged 12–65 and cost BRL 7 million to produce, becoming the country’s most encompassing study on drug use.</p> <p>Although the survey had been completed for over a year, the Justice Ministry stopped it from being published on the grounds that researchers had not followed appropriate methods that had been previously approved by both the Justice and Health Ministries. After reaching a deal, the survey was finally published on August 8, revealing Brazil’s complex patterns of drug use.&nbsp;</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <h2>The most frequently used drugs in Brazil</h2> <h4>Alcohol</h4> <p>It is estimated that 30.1 percent of Brazilians, or 46 million people, consume alcoholic beverages at least once every 30 days. Moreover, 38.4 percent of Brazilians practice binge drinking at least once in the space of a year. According to the study, binge drinking is defined as a man having five or more drinks, and a woman having four or more.&nbsp;</p> <p>Drinking is most common among 25–34-year-olds, with 38.2 percent of this population reporting that they consume alcohol. Meanwhile, 8.8 percent of teenagers (aged 12–17) have admitted to drinking. Alcohol consumption was most common among those with higher levels of education.</p> <p>The survey revealed that 2.3 million Brazilians have some form of alcohol dependency. Moreover, teenagers who drink are more likely to become alcoholics. According to the survey, 119 thousand Brazilian teenagers are alcoholics. Overall, there was a higher concentration of alcoholics in the North of Brazil.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/581911"></div><script src=""></script> <h4>Tobacco products</h4> <p>It is estimated that over a one year period, 17.3 percent of Brazilians used tobacco products and 15.4 percent used industrialized cigarettes, of which 12 million are men and 8.8 million are women. Moreover, 1.3 million teenagers are said to have smoked cigarettes in their lifetime and 51 million adults started smoking when they were around 15 years old. During the 12-month period prior to the study, it is reported that one million teenagers drank alcohol and used tobacco. Contrary to alcohol, individuals with higher levels of education are less likely to use tobacco products.&nbsp;</p> <p>When it comes to nicotine, it is estimated that 4.9 million Brazilians have some level of addiction. This corresponds to 3.2 percent of the population.</p> <p>“Other studies have demonstrated a decline in the use of conventional cigarettes,” said Inácio Bastos, the study’s coordinator, in a press release. “On the other hand, other forms of smoking have come to my attention, such as the increase in electronic cigarettes and hookah pipes.”</p> <h4>Illicit drug abuse</h4> <p>Approximately 15 million people reported using some sort of illicit drug throughout their lifetime. Moreover, 4.9 million people, or 3.2 percent of the population, used illicit drugs over a one-year period. Those between the ages of 25–34 with higher levels of education who live in urban areas are more likely to use illegal substances drugs. In fact, 7.4 percent of 18–24-year-olds reported using illicit drugs during the year prior to their interviews. </p> <p>An astonishing 15 million people reported using illicit substances for the first time when they were 16. It is reported that 400 thousand Brazilian teenagers drank alcohol and used at least one illicit substance in the year prior to the survey.&nbsp;</p> <p>Cannabis is by far the most frequently used illicit drug. In fact, 7.8 percent of Brazilians aged 17–65 reported using the drug at least once. Cocaine is the next most popular illicit drug, with 3.1 percent of Brazilians having used it.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Brazil, 1.4 million people aged between 12 and 65 have used crack cocaine or similar drugs in their lifetime, which represents 0.9 percent of the population. The study demonstrated lower levels of crack consumption than those presented in the National Study of Crack Use, published in 2013. This is likely because the current study is a household survey, and users of crack tend to concentrate in public areas, according to Mr. Bastos.</p> <h4>Non-prescribed medication</h4> <p>In Brazil, 0.6 percent of the population used non-prescribed medication. This was more frequent among women than men. In fact, four percent of women used non-prescribed medication over a one-year period, while only two percent of men reported doing so. However, men were more likely to start using non-prescribed drugs at age 20, while women are more likely to start at age 24. Use of non-prescribed medication was most commonly reported in the Southeast region of Brazil.</p> <p>“[These results reveal] a very alarming pattern, which reminds us of the North American [epidemic of non-prescribed medication] from decades ago,” said Mr. Bastos.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/581944"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>How easy is it to obtain drugs in Brazil?</h2> <p>When compared to adults, younger people thought that drugs were more accessible. In fact, those aged 18–34 said it was “very easy” to obtain several illicit substances. Teenagers said they found it easy to gain access to cocaine, crack, anabolic steroids, amphetamines, solvents and sedatives.</p> <p>In response to Brazil’s drug problem, 64 to 65 percent of the population supports the use of ads for drug prevention. They also support increasing taxes on alcoholic beverages to subsidize health and education programs. Over 50 percent of the population was also in favor of reducing the number of establishments that sell alcohol and limiting their business hours. In fact, the survey revealed that almost 70 percent of teenagers were in favor of reducing business hours for bars and clubs.</p> <h2>How do Brazilians ask for help?</h2> <p>Most Brazilians suffering from substance addiction seek help through therapeutic communities, temporary reception homes and Centers for Psychosocial Attention for Alcohol and Other Drugs (CAPS-AD), a program organized by the Health Ministry. Most people seeking treatment do so for alcohol and tobacco, with cocaine addiction coming in third. Treatments are most frequently sought by those over 45 years of age, perhaps due to their longer exposure to drugs.&nbsp;</p> <p>The study also addresses people’s perception of drug use. In Brazil, 44.5 percent of the population thinks drugs are responsible for the highest number of deaths in the country. Moreover, 50 percent of Brazilians consider binge drinking once or twice a week to be very risky. Additionally, 80 percent of the population considers smoking one or more packs of cigarettes to also be very risky. In fact, Brazilians have demonstrated a greater concern about tobacco products than in previous surveys.&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/581917"></div><script src=""></script> <p>When it comes to illicit substances, 57.2 percent of the population showed serious concern about smoking cannabis once a month. However, five percent of Brazilians think that smoking cannabis doesn’t pose any health risk. Moreover, 75.4 percent of the population thinks using cocaine once a month is extremely harmful, while 17.3 percent think it is moderately dangerous. Despite Brazilians’ concerns, Mr. Bastos highlights that drug use is a problem that is becoming increasingly complex and dangerous.&nbsp;</p> <p>“Young Brazilians are using drugs with a higher potential for harm, such as crack cocaine,” said Mr. Bastos. “Moreover, there’s a tendency towards the simultaneous use of drugs.”

Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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