As Brazil readies itself for the eyes of the world to fall upon it in 2014 as host of the FIFA World Cup, and the Summer Olympics just two years later, the country can no longer turn a blind eye to its rampant crack epidemic.
With president Dilma Rousseff pledging $2 billion in the form of a drug prevention and treatment programs in December 2011, only months after taking office, the government is well aware of the gravity of the situation.
Though crack has been in Brazil since the 1990s, a decade after the United States faced such an epidemic, it’s only within the past six years that use of the drug has exploded. This sudden outburst of crack consumption has given way to neighborhoods now known as Cracolandias — or cracklands, like the former Luz district of central Sao Paulo.
With an estimated 1 million consumers of cocaine, the outbreak of drug use is being attributed to both the country’s increased wealth, giving rise to a new middle class, as well as its proximity to drug-supplying countries like Bolivia and Peru.
Brazil is taking a different approach in battling the epidemic.
Rather than locking up users like the United States chose to do in the ’80s, health officials instead offer beds to addicts at Psychosocial Attention Centers — 80 exist in Sao Paulo alone. With some saying the country didn’t properly treat the problem when it first surfaced in the ’90s, it remains to be seen if Brazil will be able to get a handle on the issue before it permanently tarnishes the country’s freshly minted reputation.