In Colombia’s capital city, Bogota, researchers and lawmakers are considering a new approach to drug addiction treatment. The city wants to initiate a pilot program that would see if marijuana helps eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal associated with basuco, a drug similar to crack cocaine.
Ultimately, the goal of the program would be to minimize health risks, both mental and physical, associated with basuco.
Basuco is a smokable drug that is commonly used among poor citizens. The base of the drug is an intermediary product that you get if you’re making cocaine that can still contain solvents, including kerosene. This makes basuco some of the least pure cocaine one could possibly access. Additionally, to add weight to the drug, dealers will add things like crushed brick and ash. The drug is sold to users for less than a dollar per high.
One expert in Bogota estimates that the city has at least 7,000 “problem users,” which means they might take up to 15-20 hits a day, according to BBC Mundo.
In an attempt to get the drug problem under control, the city is planning to establish “controlled consumption centers” where addicts of hard drugs, primarily basuco, could go to consume in a safer environment and eventually be weaned off of the drugs.
Julián Quintero, from the Bogota-based non-profit organization Acción Técnica Social, which works on drug policy, told BBC Mundo how such centers will work:
“The first thing you do is to start to reduce the dose. After that, you begin to change the way that it’s administered: if you were injecting heroin, you move to smoking heroin; after smoking heroin, you move to combining it with cannabis; after that, you’re staying with the cannabis,” he said. “What you’re looking for is for the person to reach a point where they can stabilize the consumption and that the consumption doesn’t prevent them from being functional.”
Marijuana is the last step of the program, so that people can still enjoy a high without consuming something that puts them or others in danger.
No such programs have been tested in the United States. Instead, most US-based treatment facilities contend that complete sobriety from all substances is the only way to truly overcome an addiction.
Amanda Reiman, a policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance, explained why a similar program is unlikely in the US. “Unfortunately, universities rely on grants from the federal government for research, so most of what they do is what the feds want done,” she said in an email. “As you can probably guess, the feds are not too interested in beneficial uses for marijuana, and even less interested in how to help people who are addicted to substances, so most of the research in this area occurs outside the U.S. or through private funding.”