CICAD: Inter-American Observatory on Drugs (OID)

Research Network Identifies Worrisome Trends


REDLA Network Identifies Worrisome Trends Illustation: electronic highway network
in Drug Use across Latin America

The members of the Latin American Epidemiological Network known more commonly by its Spanish name la Red Latinoamericana de Investigadores en Drogas (REDLA), a network of academic researchers coordinated by the CICAD/OID and supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), met in San Juan, Puerto Rico on June 11-12 , 2008.

REDLA members presented analyses on the drug situation in each country, including Puerto Rico, presented by Dr. Juan Carlos Reyes of the University of Puerto Rico. Analyses comprised summaries of the state of the art research data and other information on drug use in each country.

Rises in drug use were found across almost all countries, particularly regarding the use of marijuana and cocaine. Perception of risk appears to be decreasing across the board.

In addition, discussion revealed a series of patterns of substance use that were previously unknown or rarely observed in Latin America.

  • "Binge Drinking" — Several countries reported a pattern of alcohol consumption commonly known as "binge drinking" in English. It is defined by prolonged periods without drinking (weeks or months), punctuated by bouts of drinking when the drinker consumes alcohol until he/she is drunk. The practice is associated with consuming five drinks or more in a given situation. This behavior previously was not seen often in Latin America and was usually associated with drinking patterns among North American youth.
  • Jarra Loca — A mixture of vodka or other strong liquor with pharmaceuticals (any type) had been seen previously in Paraguay. However, instances have now been reported in Argentina, Peru, and Brazil.
  • Merla — In Brazil, the combination of cocaine or crack with cannabis is growing in popularity.
  • Heroin mixed with Xylazine — This new trend is reported in Puerto Rico, which has a rising injection drug use problem. The practice involves both the use of heroin and a mixture of Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer, which has particularly deleterious effects on the health of the user. This cocktail has become popular because it is believed to mimics or extend the effects of the heroin.

The culture of self-medication

A point of particular discussion among the REDLA members was the widespread use of pharmaceuticals without a prescription across Latin America. Some of the reasons revolve around the lack of controls on commercial medication, or simply lack of enforcement of rules. Lack of access to healthcare and poor education on the risks involved in self-medication add to the problem. The result is that the use of medications without medical prescription or doctor supervision is widely accepted culturally. In Brazil, the use of benzodiazepines without a medical prescription is common, particularly among women. Mexico observed an increase in the use of pharmaceuticals without a prescription as well. Many pharmaceuticals are highly addictive, in addition to posing adverse health effects with prolonged or unsupervised use. CICAD/OID-sponsored surveys do not fully disaggregate the different pharmaceuticals, making it difficult to know which substances are most commonly misused, an issue that should be investigated in the future.

Response to new risks

The REDLA members identified the means through which information on drug use could be enhanced with, for example, a more precise breakdown of pharmaceuticals misused and better classification of inhalable substances in epidemiological drug surveys. In addition, the REDLA network identified a series of knowledge gaps that could be closed through secondary analysis of existing databases. In response to this need, the network created a work plan to prepare a series of analyses looking at the cross-national databases. This activity will be supported jointly by CICAD/OID and NIDA.

The 14 participants came from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and the United States, including Puerto Rico.

updated on 8/14/2012 4:26:48 PM