• Spain edition
 
Opinion
Why do Spaniards love cocaine so much?
"It’s easier for a 16-year-old in Spain to get illegal drugs than alcohol and cigarettes," says law professor Araceli Manjón Cabeza. File photo: YouTube

Why do Spaniards love cocaine so much?

Published: 27 Nov 2013 10:50 GMT+01:00
Updated: 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).

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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Ebola outbreak
Barcelona: Man isolated over Ebola fears
Medics in Portugal take part in a drill designed to transport people infected with the Ebola virus. Photo: Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP

Barcelona: Man isolated over Ebola fears

A 38-year-old has been quarantined in Barcelona over fears he may be positive for the Ebola virus: test results are expected to be confirmed within the next 48 hours. READ  

Xabi Alonso quits Spain international team
Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Xabi Alonso quits Spain international team

Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso announced his retirement from international football on Wednesday, as Spain's golden generation of players begins its slow march into the sunset. READ  

Barceloneta protests
Barcelona mayor vows to close illegal holiday flats
Locals in the Barcelona neighbourhood of Barceloneta are calling for all tourist apartments in the area to be closed. Barceloneta Beach in Barcelona: Shutterstock

Barcelona mayor vows to close illegal holiday flats

The mayor of Barcelona has vowed to "get tough" on people who rent out illegal tourist apartments in the city's Barceloneta neighbourhood after demonstrations by locals against the unruly behaviour of tourists. READ  

In pictures: Spain's Tomatina festival 2014
A man throws tomato pulp during the annual "tomatina" festivities in the village of Buñol, near Valencia on Wednesday. Photo: Gabriel Gallo/AFP

In pictures: Spain's Tomatina festival 2014

Spain's crazy Tomatina festival was its usual squishy self on Wednesday as nearly 22,000 people gathered in the Spanish town of Buñol to pelt each other with ripe tomatoes. READ  

Tired man kills neighbour over barking dog
Neighbours said the pair had already argued before, the aggressor reprimanding his soon-to-be victim for not letting him have his afternoon nap. Photo: Gabriel Flores Romero

Tired man kills neighbour over barking dog

A siesta-deprived man from eastern Spain has shot dead his neighbour during an argument they had over the victim's dog and its barking. READ  

Ice Bucket Challenge
'Ice bucket videos can distract from ALS cause'

'Ice bucket videos can distract from ALS cause'

Although donations from the Ice Bucket Challenge craze are finally starting to pour into Spain's ALS Association, president Adriana Guevara tells The Local that many sufferers of this crippling illness are being overlooked by the Spanish government. READ  

Football focus
I didn't want to leave Real Madrid: Ángel di María
"Unfortunately, today I have to leave, but I want to make it clear that was never my wish," Di María said in an open letter to Madrid sports daily Marca. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

I didn't want to leave Real Madrid: Ángel di María

Argentine midfielder Ángel di María has claimed he never asked to leave Real Madrid after sealing his British transfer record £59.7 million ($98 million, €75 million) move to Manchester United. READ  

Fashion fail
Zara pulls plug on 'Holocaust shirt' for kids
The Turkish-made garment has been withdrawn from sale by Zara. Screen grab: Zara

Zara pulls plug on 'Holocaust shirt' for kids

UPDATED: The Spanish clothing giant Zara has apologized for selling a striped shirt for children which appears to resemble the clothes worn by prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. READ  

Spanish property
New mortgages shoot up 19 percent in June

New mortgages shoot up 19 percent in June

The number of new mortgages in Spain in June was up nearly 20 percent on the same month in 2013, only the second such year-on-year rise in four years, official figures released on Wednesday show, but the credit crunch is far from over. READ  

VIDEO
Mafia kiss leads Ibiza police to Rolex thieves
The grainy footage was enough to help police identify and locate five of the Camorra members operating on the island. Screengrab: Italian State Police/YouTube

Mafia kiss leads Ibiza police to Rolex thieves

Security cameras from a hotel on Spain's holiday island of Ibiza have helped police catch a Camorra gang specializing in luxury watch theft, as footage showed one of the thieves kissing his partner in crime on the lips when he pulled out a Rolex he'd just stolen. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Man hurt as friend swaps ice bucket for plane
Spain 'would block independent Scotland from joining EU'
Politics
Spain 'would block independent Scotland from joining EU'
International
Spanish police mistake Morocco's king for people smuggler
What's On
What's on in Spain: September
Society
Miss Spain comes out of closet on Instagram
Travel
Top ten: Spain's best natural swimming pools
Property
'Dying' town flogs off land for €200 to woo new blood
National
Gays to blame for Spain's trillion euro debt: senator
Society
Spain's anti-rape guidelines: 1) Close your curtains
National
Woman on Madrid plane had 1.7kg coke in breasts
Health
'Spain's hospitals aren't ready for Ebola'
Travel
Twelve things tourists do that annoy Spaniards
National
Swiss sex tourists slapped with seatbelt fine
Features
Top ten 'English' words made in Spain: Part 2
International
'I hate the black man in the White House'
Travel
Top 10: Spanish tourist traps you should avoid
National
127 kg of cocaine found on navy training ship
National
Spain's 14-year-old jihadist girl locked up
International
Fox News names Penelope Cruz 'idiot of the week'
International
Spain pulls plug on weapons sales to Israel
Tech
Made in Spain: the ice cream that changes colour while you eat
National
Pic of the day: Spain dazzles in Nasa photo
Politics
A to Z of Spanish politics: a handy guide
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

1,656
jobs available