• Spain's news in English
 

Why do Spaniards love cocaine so much?

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).

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
Coppola wins Spain's biggest arts prize
Francis Ford Coppola is to receive this year's Princess of Asturias prize for the arts, Photo: Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/AFP

Coppola wins Spain's biggest arts prize

GALLERY: US filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola on Wednesday won Spain's top arts prize, the Princess of Asturias award, for a career making classics such as "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now". The Local looks at which other famous faces have won Spain's most prestigious award. READ  

Most Spanish people will be overweight by 2030

Most Spanish people will be overweight by 2030

A new report warns of an obesity crisis in Europe of "enormous proportions", with 80 percent of Spanish men set to be overweight by 2030. READ  

Andy Murray confident ahead of Madrid open
Andy Murray beat Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber in Munich on May 4th. Photo: Christof Stache

Andy Murray confident ahead of Madrid open

Andy Murray arrived in the Spanish capital at the start of the Madrid Masters on Tuesday buoyed by his first clay court title in Munich. READ  

Basque editor praised for press freedom role
Gorka Landáburu, who was the victim of an Eta attack, pictured in his office in 2005. photo: Rafa Rivas / AFP

Basque editor praised for press freedom role

A Basque journalist has been chosen as the only Spaniard to be honoured on a Reporters Without Borders list of 'information heroes' who have been an inspiration to those aspiring to freedom. READ  

Spanish hero of Nazi death camp honoured
Francisco Boix, centre, taking part as a witness at the trial in Dachau, 1946. Photo: Chamberi21/Wikimedia

Spanish hero of Nazi death camp honoured

The horrors of Mauthausen concentration camp, which was liberated 70 years ago today, were brought to the world’s attention in part due to the many photographs smuggled out by Spanish prisoner, Francisco Boix. READ  

Mr Tossa? Councillor competes in Mr Spain
Local councillor Ignasi Sallés is hoping to be the next 'Mr Spain' Photo: Ignasi Sallés/Twitter

Mr Tossa? Councillor competes in Mr Spain

A councillor from the Spanish town of Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava is set to flex his muscles in the annual male beauty contest. READ  

Spain among ten best countries to be a mum

Spain among ten best countries to be a mum

Spain took seventh place worldwide in a ranking of the best places in which to be a mother, released by Save the Children on Tuesday. READ  

Biggest fall in April jobless for two decades
People queuing outside a Spanish job centre. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

Biggest fall in April jobless for two decades

Spain registered its steepest decline in the number of jobless people for April in almost two decades, government data showed on Tuesday, as the eurozone country's economic recovery gathered pace. READ  

Great EscAPE: Chimps go on the run in Mallorca
The chimps at Mallorca's Safari Park. Photo: Glem Bowman / Flickr

Great EscAPE: Chimps go on the run in Mallorca

Two chimps made a break for freedom and escaped from their enclosure at Mallorca’s Sa Coma safari park on Monday causing panic among visitors. READ  

Spain blocks export of Picasso painting to UK
Spanish painter Pablo Picasso. Photo: Ralph Gatti/AFP

Spain blocks export of Picasso painting to UK

Spain's courts have ruled that a Spanish banker cannot take his prized Picasso to London because of the painting's great importance within the cultural heritage of Spain. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Features
Top ten: Madrid's best rooftop bars
National
British expats fall victim to NHS clampdown
Travel
Benidorm: Cultural wonder of the world?
National
King Juan Carlos led 'double-life' with lover
Features
Happy book day! Top ten Spanish literary gifts
Features
Ten best UNESCO world heritage sites in Spain
Features
All the fun of the fair: Seville's Feria de Abril
National
Off with her hair! Queen Letizia debuts new do
National
Barcelona bans tourists from famous market
National
Rockers pen 'We don't love Ryanair' ballad
Travel
Location tours start for 'Game of Thrones' fans
National
Top ten things to do in Castellón
First house sold by lottery ticket in Spain
National
Official: Francisco Franco was a dictator
National
Olives and vino at risk from climate change
National
Olé! Madonna orders tour bullfighting suits
National
Jihadists planned attacks in Spain: judge
Politics
Spain's 'Citizens' party fires up voters
Travel
'No pooing': village tells pilgrims in north Spain
National
Spain's newest export to France: Vultures
National
Spain gets first memorial stones to Nazi victims
National
Town in shock at expat double murder
National
Brit family of four dead after Gibraltar stabbing
National
What's on in Spain: April 2015
National
Priest arrested for exorcism on anorexic girl
Can the 'nightmare' of a pilot downing a plane be prevented?
National
Could this be Spain's own Maggie Thatcher?
National
Spain outstrips France and Italy in wine exports
National
What country is Catalonia most like?
International
Exposed: actress who faked Oscar glory
Society
Ten phrases you'll only hear at work in Spain
National
Brooms up! Quidditch casts its spell over Spain
International
Spanish crowned world's happiest language
National
Eight cool things the crisis did for Spain
Travel
Top Ten: Spain's best beaches for 2015
National
Euro property bargains up for grabs in Spain
What's On
Spain's craziest carnivals
National
Spanish town fights 'Fifty Shades' bondage hotel
Property
House sales up for first year since crisis began
What's On
Ten golden rules for snagging a Spanish man
International
Vinnie Jones teaches Spanish in hilarious ad
Gallery
The highs and lows of the Spanish property market
National
The five strangest things about Spaniards
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

3,327
jobs available
?>