• Spain's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Why do Spaniards love cocaine so much?

The Local · 27 Nov 2013, 10:50

Published: 27 Nov 2013 10:50 GMT+01:00

"Cocaine is glamorous but also dangerous — like the blonde femme fatales you see in the movies", Eusebio Megías, Technical Director of Spain’s Foundation against Drug Addiction (FAD) explains emphatically.

"What international observers often don’t take into account when looking at drug use in Spain is the cultural aspect.

"For about 25 years, or up until 2008,  Spaniards experienced many changes in terms of politics and culture."

Mejías is referring to the period when post-dictatorship Spain reinvented itself as a modern, prosperous and liberal-minded nation.

"There was an emphasis on free time and enjoying the moment. It was a splendid time for Spain economically, and cocaine was a symptom of that."

"Our society became very permissive and limitless; people thought 'I can take anything I want'."

"Cocaine is the perfect drug in that cultural climate. It’s a recreational drug that prolongs pleasure," adds the FAD director.

FAD campaign against cocaine use: "Coke goes straight to the brain, from the first line, even if you don't notice it, even if you think you can control it. Use your brain, turn your nose up at coke."

Europe's biggest coke users?

More than 13 percent of Spaniards between the ages of 15 and 34 have tried cocaine at least once in their lifetime, an EU drugs report from 2012 states.

That's the highest figure for the EU: the average is 6.3 percent.

Spain’s youth are also the most habitual coke snorters in Europe, with 4.4 percent admitting they've consumed the drug in the last year and 2 percent in the last month.

"It’s impossible to get accurate results (on usage) when studying illegal substances," says Araceli Manjón Cabeza, former technical director of Spain’s National Plan against Drugs and currently a professor in criminal law at the Complutense University of Madrid.

"You have to keep in mind not everybody will own up to consuming drugs and there’s no way of determining the exact amount which is circulating around Spain and elsewhere.

"What I do know for a fact is that it’s easier for a 16-year-old in Spain to get hold of illegal drugs than it is of alcohol and cigarettes," Manjón affirms.

Spain’s former number two in the fight against drugs — her boss was Spanish super judge Baltasar Garzón — has actually carried out studies in which she handed teenagers a €50 note (equivalent to $67) and asked them to see what substances they could buy with the money.

"The kids would find it easier to score ecstasy pills or coke than they would to buy a bottle of rum or a pack of cigarettes over the counter.

"Drugs are readily available and no dealer is going to ask a potential client for ID," she explains.

"That’s just one of the reasons why I changed my stance in the fight against drugs and am now in favour of their controlled legalization."

Spain: Europe's cocaine gateway

"If Spain is the gateway of cocaine and other drugs into Europe it’s purely because of its geographical positioning," Manjón tells The Local.

"Whether it's cocaine from Latin America or hashish from northern Africa, we’re just the ones closest.

"Galicia (northwest Spain) already had the infrastructure for tobacco smuggling, allowing local drug traffickers to work with South American drug cartels from the 90s on.

"We also have a lot of coast, which may explain in part why there are so many drug heists in Spain," she adds.

But the law professor is careful to play down the importance of some of these heists: "The Spanish press aren't always accurate when reporting on the fight against drugs. Every drug bust they write about is bigger than the last one, and when you look at the figures afterwards the numbers simply don’t add up."

"According to the UN, only 5 percent of illegal drugs are seized globally. That leaves you wondering whether waging the war on drugs are doing their job properly or not," explains Manjón.

"What I want to make clear is that there’s no way prohibition is going to reduce drug trafficking and consumption in Spain or anywhere else for that matter.

"It’s allowing drug cartels to have a monopoly on the business," she says.

"They in turn can reduce the quality of the drugs, turning them into poison.

"And society’s most vulnerable, from children to those who are desperately living without jobs or homes, are consuming them or facing jail time for using them."

Map of cocaine prevalence in Europe (darker green countries are the biggest users). Click here to see detailed map of drug prevalence across the continent.

End of an affair?

After a prolonged spell of popularity, it seems cocaine may finally be falling out of favour in Spain.

In 2009, a record 10.2 percent of all Spaniards aged 15 to 64 said they had tried the drug once in their lifetime, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

Story continues below…

But 2011 that figure had dipped to 8.8 percent, the first fall in nearly two decades.

For Megías at FAD, it’s all about the state of Spain’s economy: “After 2008 things changed. That was because of the crisis,” he explains

"There is more anxiety and depression now and people are reaching for drugs that calm them down, like alcohol, and tranquilizers."

"People are depressed and scared, and are now spending less on all recreational drugs, including cocaine, because they have less money."

Problems with cocaine remain, however.

"Until recently cocaine was seen in Spain as a fashionable, high profile and relatively low risk substance," Julian Vicente, the head of the EMCDDA's Prevalence, Consequences and Data Management unit told The Local via email.

"(But) there are still social and health costs due to cocaine use in Spain."

"A number of people pass from being occasional and recreational users to intensive users, which creates social, economic and health problems."

A 2012 EMCDDA report cited figures showing there may be as many as 121,130 problem cocaine users in Spain.

This is based on the idea that a problem user is anyone who has used cocaine on 30 or more days in the last 12 months.

And while even the EMCDDA admits it is difficult to define what makes someone a problem cocaine user, one fact remains clear.

Spain's love affair with cocaine is not yet completely a thing of the past.

The Local (news@thelocal.es)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
'I never look at what I sign,' admits Messi in fraud case
Messi arriving in court in September 2013. Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

The Barcelona star told a Spanish judge he never looks at the contracts he signs.

Second day of metro strikes brings chaos to Barcelona
File photo of Barcelona Metro. Photo: AFP

Barcelona Metro was slowed further by an accident on the line on Tuesday morning.

Basketball great Pau Gasol could skip Rio over Zika fears
Pau Gasol said he might not go to the Olympic Games in Rio. Photo: AFP

He is considering skipping the Olympic Games in Brazil in August due to fears over the Zika virus.

Six reasons why Benidorm is so much better than you think
Benidorm is simply something special. Photos by Leah Pattem

Leah Pattem thinks everyone should visit Benidorm at least once in their life. Here she explains why you should give Europe's tackiest resort a chance.

Smoking near kids is 'form of abuse': Spanish experts
Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP.

A group of Spanish medical experts warns that given the serious health effects, lighting up around a child could be considered abuse.

Man jailed for driving car with bomb into political party HQ
Police blocked off the streets in 2014 after the man drove his car with an explosive device into the office of the Popular Party. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP.

An unemployed man who drove a car loaded with a home-made bomb into the Madrid headquarters of Spain's ruling Popular Party was sentenced to five years in jail.

Confused Spaniard causes evacuation of Cologne airport
Cologne Bonn airport was put on lockdown after the Spaniard skipped security. Photo: Patrik Stollarz/AFP

This might be the last time he decides to skip security...

Isis storm Real Madrid fan club in Iraq, shooting 12 dead
Real Madrid players. Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

Spanish football authorities have condemned the attack on a Real Madrid supporters club, which left 12 fans dead during Saturday night's Champions League final.

How a quiet Barcelona block became a hotbed of protests
Police stand off against protesters in Barcelona. Photo: Conor DeVries.

Journalist and local resident Conor DeVries gives a first-hand account of the riots that have shaken one Barcelona neighbourhood.

Gallery
Ten amazing reasons to visit Spain's Canary Islands
Incredible scenery on the Canary Island of La Gomera. Photo: Till Krech/Flickr

To celebrate Canary Island Day, The Local takes a look at some of the best reasons to visit Spain's most exciting islands.

Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Culture
What's on in Spain: June 2016
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Stunning cave paintings found 300 metres below Spain
Travel
Five good reasons why Extremadura should be on your bucket list
Lifestyle
Top Ten: Barcelona's coolest rooftop bars
National
Plane forced to dodge THREE drones to land in Bilbao
National
Spain launches campaign to stop English 'invasion'
Culture
Ten unique Basque words you need to learn right now
National
'It’s time to dig up Franco' say victims of Spain's dictatorship
Lifestyle
'Severe jellyfish stings' end Brit's Spanish swim feat
Sport
5 reasons why Spanish clubs dominate European football
International
Tesco to bring British tea and biscuits to Spanish stores
Culture
Bucket list: 16 brilliant things to do once in your life in Spain
National
Spain's Civil War victims to be exhumed from Franco's tomb
National
Two mums face jail for leaving kids in car to go out drinking
Education
Students at Spanish college forced to take exorcism class
National
Ten superb reasons why you need to visit San Sebastián
Society
Abused wife saved by hiding SOS note in son's homework
National
Look up! Rare meteor shower set to dazzle skies over Spain
Politics
Why Spain is heading for a Groundhog day election
Travel
Ibiza bans drinking in street… and that includes water
National
Expats didn't 'abandon' UK so ALL Brits should get EU vote
Features
What's on in Spain: May 2016
Travel
Discover Spain's breathtaking national parks
3,145
jobs available