She was on her way home from a party when her car hit a group of six cyclists. Two of them were killed, and three others seriously injured. The driver tested positive for alcohol and drug consumption.
That accident occurred last weekend in Valencia and is another example of how the consumption of drugs, especially cocaine and cannabis, has extended in recent years. These substances are no longer only associated with recreation: they have become part of everyday life for more and more people. In fact, the number of people who receive treatment after taking these drugs has greatly increased in Malaga province in recent years. Why is that? Because there has been a reduction in the perception of the risk associated with them.
Figures from the Provincial Drug Dependency Centre (CPD) support this claim. Most patients who need attention of this type have become dependent on alcohol, but in other cases the problem is with illegal substances such as cocaine and cannabis. In 2016 alone, the CPD assisted 1,135 people in the province who had problems because of these two drugs, and that is an increase of 54.6 per cent compared with ten years ago.
One of the worst problems is with cocaine; 675 people were assisted by the CPD last year, and the Proyecto Hombre association reports that 70 per cent of its work last year involved helping people with cocaine dependency. Its director in Malaga, Belén Pardo, says many people do not realise that cocaine cannot be consumed every day.
“For example, heroin is highly addictive and within a very short time you feel the need to consume it every day. Cocaine creates a false sense of control,” she explains.
Juan Jesús Ruiz, who runs the CPD, agrees and says that cocaine dependency begins little by little. Somebody who starts by taking it at weekends gradually ends up with a serious addiction, because their tolerance increases and they have to keep consuming more and more.
Cocaine is no longer considered an elite drug, and its consumption has increased. Although it costs money to acquire it, these experts warn that they are treating all types of people who have problems because of cocaine.
Some of their patients are professionals who work long hours. “When they take cocaine they feel more in control, more able to concentrate, so they often consume it even while they are working,” says Belén.
She also says that most of the people who come to the associations for help are men with a solid family and work structure, but they are still leading a double life. “They often don’t ask for help until something serious happens in their personal or working life,” she says.
With regard to cannabis consumption, the figures are alarming. Last year the CPD attended to 460 people, 142 per cent more than ten years ago.
Juan Jesús Ruiz says that in this case the profile of the people is different although, like cocaine, they come from all sectors of society. “This drug is becoming more popular and many youngsters are using it. On average, they start taking it when they are about 15 years old. However, many other people smoke cannabis, often at home after work,” he says.
In fact, although people may be somewhat wary of consuming cocaine, they think there is hardly any risk at all with cannabis. Experts refute this, and point out that it can have a serious effect on health.
José Manuel Burgos, a forensic doctor at the Institute of Legal Medicine in Malaga, explains that there has been an increase in psychotic incidents caused by cannabis.
“Knowing that I work on subjects like this, a friend of mine recently asked me to help his 22-year-old son, who is a student in Granada, because he had problems with this substance. He was admitted to an addiction centre just over two months ago, and has been receiving treatment ever since,” he says.
Juan Jesús Ruiz confirms that cannabis is an enabling substance in psychotic disorders. “If someone has an underlying problem, the drug will affect them more. Most of the time these problems can be overcome, but sometimes the damage remains,” he says.
With cocaine, the damage is physical rather than mental and it can be considerable. Forensic scientist Eduardo Ramos says cocaine consumption is linked with cardiovascular problems: when someone takes this drug it produces changes in the cardiovascular system which can lead to irregular heart beat and even sudden death.
“It doesn’t only affect somebody who has been taking it for years. It can happen at any time, even to people who have only been using it at weekends for a few months. The quantity which has been taken overall has nothing to do with it,” he says.