Drug addiction and poverty
About 35 million people suffer from drug addiction worldwide. For countless families, this illness goes hand in hand with a cycle of poverty. Many factors fuel drug addiction including unemployment, mental illness and financial status.

Poverty’s Role in Drug Usage and Abuse

Impoverished communities face significantly higher rates of addiction. Financial instability fosters stress, increasing the likelihood of addictive behaviors. Heroin addiction illustrates this link. People making less than $20,000 per year are three times more likely to have an addiction to heroin compared to those making $50,000. Beyond that, people with greater financial means face an easier recovery journey. They are less likely to suffer from severe, long-term addiction than those in poverty. Lack of education, emotional instability and discrimination all heighten the risk of addiction. However, two factors are keys to understanding the link between addiction and poverty.

Unemployment

Unemployment is a key driver of drug addiction. Impoverished working-age men are 18% more likely to face joblessness as poverty and unemployment form a harmful cycle. The cycle begins with unemployment heightening one’s risk of poverty. Then, once in poverty, job hunting becomes harder due to economic bias, challenges in earning a college degree, racial bias and a lack of job infrastructure in low-income areas. This cycle of unemployment-induced stress and anxiety increases the chance of falling into drug addiction.

Mental Illness

Mental illness increases the risk of drug addiction, and poverty elevates the risk of mental illness. Using data from Great Britain, the Mental Health Foundation concluded that people living in the lowest 20% of incomes are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest 20%. One can explain this through higher stigma and societal trauma, unemployment and fragmented relationships in low-income environments. In addition, poverty undermines access to mental health care and support. This connection is dangerous as population surveys in the U.S. found that half of those who experience mental illnesses will develop drug addictions.

Addiction Increases the Risk of Poverty

Once someone has a substance use disorder, it can be extremely difficult to achieve financial success or maintain a stable economic status. Three main factors can explain this relationship between addiction and poverty.

  1. Addicts use some portion of their earnings on drugs. While the cost of substances differs, when added over time, even the smallest expense can affect a person’s financial well-being, especially as tolerance levels increase.
  2. Drug addiction can cause the addict to miss work, perform poorly and fail drug tests. These all threaten job security and employment status.
  3. Substance use increases the risk of costly medical emergencies and long-term conditions. Depending on the extremity of the problem, some medical visits can leave a person in financial debt, threatening economic stability.

Fighting Addiction Means Fighting Poverty and Vice Versa

Because addiction and poverty inextricably connect, viable solutions must take this into account. Countries throughout the world are fighting back against these issues in unique ways. One solution that countries like the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland pioneered is the decriminalization or legalization of drugs. This method recognizes drug addiction as an illness, opening the doors for better regulation of drug safety and support services such as psychiatry, housing and employment. The overall strategy of legalization shows promise. Since legalizing drugs, Portugal saw an 80% reduction in overdose deaths. Additionally, overall drug use declined. Switzerland’s decriminalization policy corresponded with an 80% reduction in first-time heroin use.

With an awareness of the interconnected relationship between addiction and poverty, policymakers can move toward real solutions to break this destructive cycle.

– Haylee Ann Ramsey-Code
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Legalizing Marijuana in UruguayWhile countries around the world debate the possibilities of marijuana decriminalization or legalization, Uruguay has taken action. Within its borders, the drug is entirely legal for both medical and recreational purposes. Since legalizing marijuana in Uruguay in 2013, the country has seen decreases in drug trafficking rates and increases in annual GDP. Uruguay’s story can serve as a guide to the international community as an example of a country that has seen relative success after legalizing marijuana.

Why and When Uruguay Legalized Marijuana

Uruguay, known for its egalitarianism and economic policies, made history as the first country to legalize marijuana in 2013. In contrast to the U.S.’s “war on drugs,” former President Jose Mujica called the choice an “intellectual experiment.” The president aimed to explore a more equal, productive alternative to the practices of most Western countries.

However, in making this change, Uruguay didn’t simply open the floodgates for the sale and distribution of all kinds of marijuana. Instead, it put strict regulations in place. Buyers must register with the government, there is a purchase limit of 10 grams a week and only Uruguayan pharmacies can sell the drug in most cases. So, consumption and distribution are highly regulated by the Uruguayan bureaucracy.

Aside from the 12 state pharmacies selling marijuana in the country, only two private firms are set to initially contract with and supply Uruguay with marijuana. These firms are Simbiosys and the International Cannabis Corporation (ICC).

Economic Effects of Legalizing Marijuana in Uruguay

While the state runs the majority of the marijuana business and sees relatively low profit margins, both the national and international communities economically benefit from legalization. State-sanctioned pharmacies retain 30% of their final profits and investments from Simbiosys and the ICC. As of late 2018, about 7,000 Uruguayans registered with the state for home cultivation.

Lowering overall prices and allowing for legal home cultivation have produced significant benefits. The decision to legalize marijuana in Uruguay has led to a large decrease in overall drug trafficking and drug traffic systems. Legal consumption has removed many from the path of illegal consumption. Because poverty and drug abuse do correlate in certain cases, Uruguay’s choice to legalize marijuana can helped impoverished people escape unhealthy lifestyles.

Looking forward, the Uruguayan government aims to internationally expand their cultivation and production to bring in a larger annual profit. Since beginning to export internationally in 2019, Uruguay doubled exports to 7.3 million in a year. Further, increasing exports from international and newly opening markets only aids Uruguay’s greater and impoverished population. With increased funds from marijuana exports, Uruguay can better fund existing egalitarian and social welfare programs.

What Can Be Learned from Uruguay’s Story

Uruguay’s marijuana model aims to create conditions where marijuana use isn’t rampant. It’s affordable, procedural and normalized. This is because of the given restrictions, which include banning mass advertising for marijuana and state pharmacies selling the drug at a significantly lower price than on the black market. For countries looking to cut down on black market sales, incarceration rates and drug trafficking, Uruguay’s experiment shows interesting signs of social and economic wellbeing. The decision to legalize marijuana in Uruguay boosted the economy and stands poised to improve the lives of citizens.

– Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Pixabay

The Opium Epidemic In MyanmarMyanmar has been suffering from an opium epidemic for decades. The country’s political instability and lack of economic opportunities outside of the world of illicit drugs are driving it. However, various initiatives are emerging to encourage another way of life. A French coffee company has emerged to give opium-producing communities hope and offer them an alternative livelihood.

The Opium Epidemic in Myanmar

Myanmar is the second-largest producer of opium in the world. The poppies the country produces end up as heroin, which is transported to neighboring countries. Alternatively, Myanmar citizens themselves purchase it for use. Opium use has historically been medicinal or traditional, with people offering it at ceremonies such as weddings. However, more serious drug-related issues have arisen. There are now many cases of HIV/AIDs and hepatitis C. This is due to the general switch to the more cost-effective manner of injecting heroin rather than smoking it, resulting in the unsanitary sharing of needles.

Due to the long-lasting political instability in the country, the health system collapsed whilst international aid dwindled as a political response to the deteriorating governance in Myanmar. In this time, the production and consumption of drugs also skyrocketed.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), between 2006 and 2014, the production of opium increased from 240 tons to 670 tons per annum. This is due to a mix of factors, such as poppies being more lucrative than other crops. This resulted in a rise in living costs for these impoverished farmers. Ultimately, for many, there are no other viable means of making enough money. However, an initiative to fight the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee has emerged to make a difference.

Alternative Development

The UNODC works with governments and other organizations in Southeast Asia, where poppy cultivation and consumption is rife, to create programs of alternative development. The aim of this is to permanently eradicate poppy cultivation by providing sustainable alternative livelihoods to producers.

In 2014, in an attempt to alleviate the opium epidemic in Myanmar, the UNODC set up the Green Gold Cooperative (GGC), which brings together many families from various villages in the Shan state to give them an alternative livelihood to opium production. Shan is a northern state of Myanmar, producing 90% of the country’s opium.

The cooperative provides a change in occupation for almost 1,000 farmers. In addition, it is giving the community social space facilities such as nurseries. This initiative works on several levels, including working to improve gender equality, with 50% of the administration board being women. The cooperative continues to evolve as a success story, having received its Fairtrade certification in 2019.

Malongo and the Green Gold Cooperative (GGC)

Malongo is a French coffee company, and in 2017, it formed a partnership with the GGC and the UNODC, subsequently launching its new Shan Mountain Coffee in 2019. For Malongo, this was not simply a charitable act to fight the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee. First and foremost, this was a business initiative as the company wanted to create a market alternative where the workers benefit from the added value of the high-quality coffee they produce, and, where consumers can be sure of the quality when purchasing it on the international market. Malongo, therefore, provided training for each stage of coffee production.

There were other substantial local benefits that came from this business initiative. Not only did it provide livelihoods, but it also increased peace through uniting different ethnic groups in the region that historically were in conflict to work together and leave poppy cultivation behind. These local groups can also consume their coffee, an evidently safer alternative to the opium they used to produce.

Coffee production has also helped environmentally as poppy cultivation brought about deforestation, soil erosion and decreased biodiversity. Now, many former poppy fields are becoming forests and the replacement production of coffee provides eco-friendly and sustainable crops. The farmers take great pride in coffee production. The particular coffee even became internationally sought out in top markets due to its high quality.

The Role of Foreign Aid

The importance of foreign aid in fighting the opium epidemic in Myanmar with coffee is unprecedented. Germany and Finland were the main financers of the development program, with Switzerland providing resources directly to the GGC.

USAID has also played a key role by giving technical assistance and market advice to locals since 2013, helping more than 8,000 farmers with the quality and sale of their coffee beans. This foreign aid has, in turn, meant these countries benefit directly from their work abroad as Myanmar now exports coffee to more than 16 countries, including the U.S.

These alternative production initiatives have significantly improved the economic, social and environmental situations for the farmers involved, and, overall opium poppy production is decreasing in Myanmar. This has served private sector interests as Malongo’s return from its investment is embodied in its high-quality coffee range. Additionally, countries such as the U.S. can now enjoy an emerging and increasingly stable trading partner in Myanmar. This initiative, benefiting all parties involved, is proof that public and private interests can overlap and bring about profound and long-lasting change in suffering communities.

Hope Browne
Photo: Flickr

Rights-Based Drug Policy
Rights-based drug policy has been increasing in popularity in recent years. In 2019, the U.N. Development Programme and the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policies collaborated with legal and scientific experts on a three-year project to develop guidelines for a rights-based drug policy approach. The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy laid out recommendations that nations should follow regarding criminal justice, addiction treatment and pain relief accessibility in order to be in accordance with international humanitarian law. These recommendations include:

  • Ensuring access to all drug dependence treatment services and medications to anyone who needs them
  • Ensuring access to all harm reduction medication and services, such as those used to reduce the likelihood of overdose or HIV infection
  • Providing a reasonable standard of living to populations vulnerable to drug addiction
  • Repealing policies that strip drug offenders of their right to vote
  • Repealing laws that allow detainment solely on the basis of drug use

Worldwide, the most common approach to addressing drug use and trafficking relies on punishment. This is often in lieu of providing care to those affected by addiction and violence relating to the drug trade. According to the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy, punishing drug users and withholding addiction treatment and harm reduction services are violations of human rights.

Some nations have been reforming their drug policy to address community needs and uphold humanitarian practices. Here are a few success stories.

Britain: Controlled Treatment for Opioid Dependence

In 2009, the British government undertook a four-year trial where doctors used injections of the opioid diamorphine, in addition to counseling, to stabilize addiction patients who had not responded to conventional treatments. After just six months of diamorphine injections, three-quarters of the trial participants stopped using street heroin. Crimes that the group committed dropped dramatically.

Today, many British citizens suffering from extreme opioid addiction are qualified to receive diamorphine through the National Health Service. From 2017-2018, 280 patients received this treatment to recover from addiction. However, conservative attitudes about the treatment threaten to cut services. Experts warn that patients who are no longer able to receive diamorphine may return to street heroin.

Scotland: Saving Lives with Naloxone

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a nasal spray that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. Scotland began providing communities with take-home Naloxone kits in 2011 and issued 37,609 kits between 2011 and 2017.

The Scottish Ambulance Service recently rolled out a program to send Naloxone kits home with the friends and family of users after an overdose and train them how to administer the medication before an ambulance arrives to reduce the risk of death. Some Scotland police officers are beginning to carry Naloxone, though many are resistant to the practice.

Portugal: Humane Treatment for Users

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized drug use. Instead of jail time, drug users receive fines or have to complete service hours and/or addiction treatment. Drug trafficking remains a criminal offense.

To replace incarceration, Portugal increased treatment programs. As of 2008, three-quarters of those suffering from opioid addictions were on medication-assisted treatment. Since the policy shift, opioid deaths have fallen dramatically, as well as HIV and Hepatitis C infections. In addition, U.S. research studies indicate that spending money on treatment returns more than investing in traditional crime reduction methods. Portugal also implemented a needle exchange program to provide intravenous drug users with clean needles, which experts say returns at least six times its expenses in reducing costs associated with HIV.

Decriminalization did not lead to a rise in addiction and Portugal’s prison population is lower now than before decriminalization. Rights-based drug policy has flipped the script on addiction in Portugal. Criminalization exacerbates issues related to addiction, such as poverty. Rights-based drug policies are better at breaking the cycle of addiction and thus, alleviating poverty.

Rights-based drug policy means treating users with respect and providing communities with the resources they need to address the devastation drugs can cause. Adopting legislation in line with The International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy is a crucial step towards a scientific and rights-based approach to combating the worldwide drug crisis.

– Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr

Russia’s AIDS EpidemicAmid a global pandemic, Russia is fighting a medical war on two fronts; as Russia deals with the spread of COVID-19, Russia’s AIDS epidemic is worsening. As the HIV  infection rate continues to decline in the rest of Europe, the transmission rate of HIV in Russia has been increasing by 10 to 15% yearly. This increase in transmission is comparable to the yearly increase in transmission of HIV in the United States in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS Epidemic in Russia

Among other factors, the erosion of effective sexual health education and a rise in the use of opioids has led to a stark increase in the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Russia. The epidemic of AIDS in Russia has received little attention from the Russian Government and the international community, partly because of the nation’s social orthodoxy and the stigma surrounding drug use and HIV/AIDS.

The Silent Spread of HIV

A significant number of Russians infected with HIV are those who inject drugs. Roughly 2.3% (1.8 million) of Russian adults inject drugs, making Russia the nation in Eastern Europe with the highest population of those who inject drugs. Due to the stigma associated with drug use as well as the threat of harsh criminal punishment, few drug users who have been affected by HIV seek treatment. A study from the Society for the Study of Addiction found that in St. Petersburg only one in 10 Russians who inject drugs and are living with HIV currently access treatment.

A large part of the stigma surrounding AIDS in Russia comes from the return of traditionalism to the Russian government following the election of Vladamir Putin in 2012 and the strong connection between the traditionalist Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Government. The Orthodox Church, in particular, has blocked efforts to instate sex education programs in schools and campaigns to give easier access to safe sex tools like condoms. While methadone is used worldwide to treat opioid addiction to lower the use of drug injection and therefore HIV transmission, the Russian Government has banned methadone. Any person caught supplying methadone faces up to 20 years in prison.

HIV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Studies conducted during 2020 have shown that Russians living with HIV and AIDS have faced difficulties in accessing treatment. According to UNAIDS, 4% of Russians living with HIV reported missing medical treatment due to the pandemic and roughly 30% of respondents reported that their treatment was somehow impacted by the pandemic.

The same study found that HIV-positive Russians had a positive COVID-19 diagnosis at a rate four times higher than HIV-negative Russians. However, HIV-positive Russians were less likely to seek medical attention for COVID-19 despite the high health risks, such as a weaker immune system that can accompany HIV. More Russians are contracting HIV yearly but the stigma of living with HIV is preventing HIV-positive Russians from seeking medical treatment.

Destigmatizing HIV/AIDs in Russia

With little national attention paid to the epidemic of AIDS in Russia, the movement for change has come from individuals looking to give visibility to and destigmatize HIV/AIDS. In 2015, after television news anchor, Pavel Lobkov, announced on-air that he had been living with AIDS since 2003, Russian doctors including Lobkov’s own doctor, saw a surge in people seeking HIV tests and treatment. In a nation where AIDS is highly stigmatized, a national celebrity showing that one can live a normal life with AIDS brought comfort to many Russians living with HIV/AIDS.

More Russians living with HIV/AIDS have made efforts to shed light on Russia’s HIV epidemic and destigmatize HIV to the public as well as in the medical community. Patients in Control, a nongovernmental organization run by two HIV-positive Russians, Tatiana Vinogradova and Andrey Skvortsov, set up posters around St. Petersburg that read “People with HIV are just like you and me,” and encourage HIV-positive Russians to seek antiretroviral treatment. HIV-positive Russians like Skvortsov and Vinogradova are trying to bring national attention to a health crisis that is seldom discussed, hoping to create a national conversation and put pressure on Russian officials to take action on the worsening epidemic.

A Call for Urgent Action

HIV-positive Russians and AIDS activists like Skvortsov have argued that until the Russian Government puts forth an “urgent, full forced response” to Russia’s AIDS epidemic, the rate of transmission will continue to climb. Many Russians on the ground are making public campaigns to destigmatize and normalize living with HIV, hoping to persuade the government to take action.

In 2018 alone, AIDS took the lives of 37,000 people across Russia. As of May 2020, more than 340,000 Russians have died of AIDS. While the social atmosphere of Russia, influenced by Putin’s government and the Orthodox Church, has created a shroud of secrecy and shame surrounding the AIDS epidemic, many HIV-positive Russians hope that the intensity of the epidemic will force the Russian Government to make a concerted effort to address Russia’s AIDS epidemic.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

Skateboarding is creating changeA skateboard for most children in the U.S. is just another toy, hobby or sport, but halfway around the world in Bangladesh, a simple skateboard deck and four wheels is becoming a beacon hope for the future. The organization Bangladesh Street Kids Aids (BSKA) for ten years now has used skateboarding as a way to connect with street children of Bangladesh.

There are approximately 600,000 children left homeless or at-risk on the city streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, the country’s capital. And the harsh reality of the everyday lives of street children is reflected in the staggering 1.56 million children predicted to live on the streets by 2024. Most of these children face hunger, extreme and dangerous work conditions, drug abuse and a refusal of education on a daily basis. Many are forced to beg for food and in the entire country of Bangladesh, there is a daily average of 75 women and children sex-trafficked.

BSKA identifies these children and attempts to provide them with different resources that will guide them on a path of success through skateboarding, mentorship and education. There is a dark history of treating street children in Bangladesh as “non-human beings.” So another goal of BSKA is to instill a sense of confidence and interpersonal skills in the children that will allow them to be safe and successful in their futures and functioning members of society.

Different Ways BSKA is Making Change Through Skateboarding

  1. Skateboarding Lessons: BSKA’s skateboarding program is the second most popular service the organization offers, with their Drug Awareness and Mentorship program being the most popular. Skateboarding is creating change in the country of Bangladesh because the sport teaches discipline and determination. BSKA aims to provide its members with different skateboarding tricks within the program to boost their confidence in learning new skills, and the organization has seen many members now interacting with their community empathetically since participating in the program.
  2. Drug Awareness/Mentorship Program: According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Forum, 85% of street children in Bangladesh abused drugs in 2018. Now, skateboarding is creating change in the lives of these children because BSKA has taken it one step further and created a Drug Awareness/Mentorship Program. The program recognizes the exposure and proximity young children have to harmful drugs and began to educate their participants on the risks and consequences of drug abuse. Many street children have parents that abuse drugs themselves, which put them at a higher risk of drug use in general because of its accessibility. Also, many street children specifically in Dhaka, become addicted to inhalants to ease hunger aches and other pains. One of the most prevalent inhalants street children in Dhaka are addicted to is sniffing dendrite or glue. BSKA’s drug awareness program provides education on the adverse effects of this drug abuse and created an alternative outlet through sports teams to promote health and fitness for the country’s youth.
  3. Education: Street Children in Bangladesh are an extremely marginalized social group that lacks basic education. Many children cannot afford to attend a private school and most are often classified as “working” children and in turn, refused a public education. One of the most significant barriers street children face is that there is not a policy in Bangladesh’s government that requires 100% of children to be enrolled in school, and the National Child Policy 2011 and National Education Policy 2010 of Bangladesh exposed this flaw in the education system.

Now skateboarding is creating change in 800 Bangla children’s’ lives daily. Since the beginning of this year, BSKA has seen tangible improvements in the lives of street children through their education programs. Most of their participants are currently attending private schools, writing their names in Bangla and English, utilizing BSKA’s tutoring services and improving behavioral tendencies.

Skateboarding is becoming a popular phenomenon around the world and is recognized by millions as a legitimate sport. The 2021 Tokyo Olympic is even going to include skateboarding as an Olympic game. But BSKA sees that skateboarding is merely a stepping stone for underprivileged children and that this sport will lead them to more opportunities on a path of success and confidence.

Josie Collier
Photo: Flickr

Drug Reform in Southeast Asia
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has set forth its own sustainable development goals to reduce global poverty systematically. The third objective of its mission is to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages,” and Target 3.5 within that states its intent to “strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug use such as opium and heroin.” In suit with this target, the UNODC has recently progressed drug reform in Southeast Asia.

Taking Action

In Bangkok on November 19, 2019, the UNODC concluded a two-day meeting with ministers and other government officials from Mekong countries including Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The collaboration between the six states and UNODC produced the establishment named The Mekong Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Drug Control. The sole purpose of the November discussion among these states was to confer over the implementation of necessary legislation that focuses on drug reform in Southeast Asia.

The current illicit substance situation in the Mekong countries is primarily the selling and use of methamphetamine in either pill or crystal form. China and Thailand make up significant shares of the global methamphetamine market (a USD $61.4 billion market) with the largest seizures of the illicit substance reported there. Another concern is the trafficking of precursor chemicals necessary to concoct these synthetic drugs and emerging new psychoactive substances (NPS). On a global level, Mekong countries and China, in particular, have become the largest suppliers of NPS as a result of their advanced chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Illegal horticulture for opium also continues at high levels in this subregion of Asia.

Progress Against New Psychoactive Substances

Previously initiated drug policies have kindled substantial efforts to combat the war on drugs in the Mekong. Record high seizures of substances have occurred in most recent years. In 2018, Thailand law enforcement seized 515 million methamphetamine tablets, which is 17 times greater than the amount for the entire Mekong region 10 years ago. Moreover, Thailand authorities captured more than 18 tons of crystal meth, resulting in a larger number than what authorities found in East and Southeast Asia combined five years ago. The Thai government implemented suppression campaigns along the Golden Triangle (Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand) borders, forcing the trafficking routes to its western border, by the Andaman Sea through Laos and Vietnam. These areas have had seizure numbers in the first half of 2019 that already surpass the 2018 totals.

While significant headway has occurred, the UNODC and MOU know continued actions need to happen to increase the suppression of narcotics within the region. UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, explains, “the epicenter is North Shan in Myanmar, with active supply routes in and out. And the organized crime syndicates behind the trade have demonstrated they can maintain production even if labs are seized, and that new precursors can be used when others are unavailable.” Consideration of all the relevant circumstances for the illicit substances in Mekong countries is essential when countries and organizations formulate further drug reform in Southeast Asia.

The two-day negotiations in Bangkok are proof that the governments of the six states plan to keep moving in a forward direction. Jeremy Douglas added that the consensus from the meeting is to “emphasize dampening market demand through preventive education and addressing health, harms and social consequences, by increasing cross-border operations, joint training and justice cooperation, and continuing to support impoverished opium farmers in Myanmar and Laos to transition away from the drug economy.”

Eyes on Organized Crime

Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam made a statement in Bangkok addressing organized crime’s hand in its drug problem, “Organized crime takes advantage of gaps and vulnerabilities that result because of uneven law enforcement capacity and coordination problems. The Mekong MOU helps by providing a framework through which we can deliver a more coherent regional approach.”Organized crime in this subregion of Asia is its government’s new primary focus. It is evident that in future years, there will be a global reduction in illicit drugs, specifically in methamphetamine and NPS, due to the continuing drug reform in Southeast Asia.

Ariana Kiessling
Photo: Flickr

 

drug trafficking and poverty
People who live in low-income communities often face different types of challenges than those who live in more comfortable economic situations. People who live in poverty-stricken areas often do not have access to proper education, clean running water, shelter, food or health care. Along with the lack of basic humanitarian needs is the instability of life and income. All of these factors come together into the complex relationship between drug trafficking and poverty.

El Chapo

Those who live in poverty may be in vulnerable situations that lead to their participation in the drug trade. Some examples have proven that exposure to drugs and drug trafficking can influence adolescents into doing and selling drugs. Lastly, the fact that these people do not have a stable form of income also leads them to drug trafficking because of the fast and vast amounts of money that can come from selling drugs.

Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán, also known as El Chapo, is one of the world’s biggest drug lords. American actor Sean Penn was pictured with Guzmán in 2016 when they sat down for a seven-hour-long meeting. Even though Penn’s intention was to start a conversation about the war on drugs, he actually discovered the impact that Guzmán’s drug trafficking activities had on his community and personal life.

Raised in a very humble and very poor Mexican family, Guzmán grew up on a ranch called La Tuna that offered no job opportunities. The only way his family was able to survive and have food on the table was because of the growth and sale of marijuana.

Guzmán acknowledged the way that drugs ruin human lives in the sense that poverty pushes individuals into the drug trade, but it does not stop there. This destruction consists of violence and conflict, which adds on to this vicious cycle of people falling into the drug trade in exchange for money to live. Writer for the Guardian, Nick Croft, said that “poor development fuels conflict, which fuels the drug trade, which fuels conflict, which fuels poverty.”

The Unexpected Outcome

When a person has no way to make money to maintain themself or their family, drug trafficking can often seem like the fastest and easiest way to make up for those financial losses. It is interesting to see the way that Guzmán’s drug trafficking activities actually helped his town rather than tainting it. His drug deals offered many people in the area job opportunities that were not present before. It also created a safe environment for those living nearby because of the massive power Guzmán had in the drug community. Everyone had a sense of stability because of the illegal trade activity that was going on around them, and it is this paradox that highlights the complexity behind the relationship between poverty and drug trafficking.

These people who have nothing, and often do not receive anything to help themselves, increasingly must choose between two lives. One is a life full of hard work with little to no returns of money, leading to a lack of education, water and food. Meanwhile, the second is a life of illegal activity that could possibly shed light on the daily hardships that those in impoverished areas face.

What the Research Says

A study by Joshua Okundaye, Drug trafficking and addiction among low-income urban youths: An ecological perspective, provides an analysis of drug use, drug trafficking and drug addiction among low-income youths living in urban areas.

It demonstrates the way that people living in poverty can be more vulnerable to drug-related situations because of the interactions within the microsystems and mesosystems they live in. Microsystems refer to “the family, the classroom, the neighborhood, the community center and the playground” while mesosystems are the “interrelationships between two or more of the microsystems.”

By looking at drug trafficking through this ecological perspective, one can see the way that this relationship is all about the point in which “independent systems or groups meet and interact.” It is exactly this point that differentiates socioeconomic groups. Those living in areas where poverty levels are higher are more prone to becoming involved in drug dealing than those who live in more privileged areas.

The finding of this study is that after evaluating the young people studied and the facts, drug trafficking is the main source of behavioral issues. With the elements of parental drug use, communication with local dealers, the number of times people ask young people to participate, age and the actual size of the person, drug trafficking becomes a key component in poverty.

The relationship between drug trafficking and poverty is very complex in the sense that it puts families and individuals in positions where they have to choose between life or death. In this case, life is the sense that one can either remain in their impoverished life while death is where if they do not take on this illegal activity, they will die with the few resources they have.

– Isabella Gonzalez Montilla
Photo: Flickr

Growing Cannabis Industry In recent years, the United States and countries around the globe have legalized medical marijuana. Several states in the U.S. have gone further and decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis. Growers and distributors of cannabis in the U.S. and Canada have been capitalizing on the growing cannabis industry. Doors have also been opening for companies based in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries like Jamaica, Colombia and Uruguay.

According to the World Health Organization, 80 percent of the world’s population uses marijuana for medicinal remedies. People know Latin American and Caribbean countries for their expansive farms and high levels of agricultural exports. Cannabis companies can leverage these existing production and distribution channels to their benefit. Ideal climate conditions coupled with increasing investment flows have positioned South America and the Caribbean for explosive growth. Some estimate the industry to grow to $55.8 billion by 2025.

Jamaican Agribusiness Shifts Priorities

In 2015, Jamaica became one of the first countries to decriminalize marijuana. Jamaicans can possess up to two ounces of marijuana. A license to grow marijuana costs $300 and allows citizens to cultivate five cannabis plants. The government is taking proactive steps to capitalize on the growing number of countries legalizing the use of marijuana by supporting local companies and universities in their research and production.

In September 2019, Jamaica’s Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced it would be partnering with Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (HIPI). Through this partnership, HIPI will conduct research on the pharmacological benefits of cannabis. Jamaica aims to capitalize on this partnership and use it as an opportunity to grow and develop its national marijuana industry.

The Alternative Development Programme (ADP), a new government program in Jamaica, has the purpose of helping farmers benefit from the growing cannabis industry. The purpose of the program is to assist farmers in their transition from small-scale farming to large-scale farming to supply large international companies.

Uruguay’s Trailblazing Stance on Marijuana

In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize both the medicinal and recreational use of marijuana. Combating gang violence was one of the Uruguayan government’s top motivators behind legalization. Despite it being well-known as one of Latin America’s safest countries, Uruguay’s crime rate has been steadily on the rise. By targeting drug cartels’ highest source of revenue, the government hopes to curb the growing violence stemming from the illicit drug trade.

Fotmer Life Sciences is a cannabis cultivator based in Uruguay. In September 2019, Fotmer became the first company to legally export medical cannabis from Latin America. Its first export partner was Australia, and Fotmer also trades with Germany and Canada. Diego Oliviera, the head Uruguay’s national drug agency, hopes to expand Uruguay’s place in the marijuana industry by expanding exports from solely marijuana plants to finished products, like oils. Although Uruguay is home to three other marijuana-based companies, Fotmer is the only company with a license to process and export the marijuana flower and products for direct consumption.

Marijuana as Colombia’s New Most Popular Export

Colombia, known for its petroleum and coal supply, can attribute 57 percent of its total export value to just that. Coffee and spices make up an additional 6 percent of exports due to Colombia’s ideal climate and 12 hours of daylight year-round. It is looking to attract cannabis cultivators using the same ideal conditions as a selling point and viable alternative to growing in countries like Canada and the United States, where people have to spend significant amounts of money on greenhouses for colder seasons.

Desired Effect of Legalization on Crime

In Colombia, the laws regarding marijuana are not as progressive as those in Uruguay. People can possess small amounts of marijuana and medicinal use is legal, but recreational use remains a criminal act. Similar to Uruguay, the Colombian government hopes that legalizing cannabis use will decrease gang and drug-related violence.

Drug- and gang-related violence is second to cancer as a leading cause of death in Colombia. It is too soon to tell whether legalization has had an impact on crime, but the strategy is to crimp revenue streams of gangs by making the illicit marijuana market. Now that it is legal for marijuana to grow for medicinal purposes, cannabis industry workers hope to attract investors. The Colombian Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA) has 29 member companies who have invested over $600 million in the construction of medical marijuana facilities.

It is becoming increasingly popular for Latin American and Caribbean countries to capitalize on the opportunities that arise from the growing cannabis industry. As more and more companies look to locate their farms to the Caribbean and South America, LAC countries are seeking to benefit by coupling foreign investment with academic and industrial research in the hopes of reaping socio-economic dividends for everyone.

– Desiree Nestor
Photo: Flickr

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau
Palau is a small country in the Pacific Ocean that attracts tourists from all over the world with its amazing scuba diving sites, stunning rock islands and gorgeous beaches. With a population of about 21,000 people, Palau is continuously working towards improving life on the island by bringing focus to some of its biggest issues such as lack of funding for non-communicable diseases, and drug and alcohol addiction in children and adults. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Palau

  1. According to the CIA World Fact Book, life expectancy in Palau was 70.4 years for men and 77 years for women as of 2018. The life expectancy has stayed relatively the same over the years with only a two-year decrease since 1995.
  2. The leading causes of death in Palau are non-communicable diseases (NCD) with cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes being the four main causes of death in the country. Because of the lack of funds going into the prevention and treatment of these diseases, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. signed a law in 2016 to set 10 percent of the revenue raised from alcohol and tobacco taxes aside to finance NCD prevention.
  3. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease which can cause high fever, headache, vomiting and skin rash. Palau is no stranger to this disease and the Ministry of Health has been educating and bringing awareness to the public ever since its biggest outbreak in 2008. In December 2018, the Ministry of Health reported its first-ever cases of the Dengue Serotype 3 virus which the small country had never seen. It immediately issued an alert and urged the public to search for and kill mosquitos in and around homes, wear clothes to cover skin and use bug repellant. Fortunately, the country did not report any deaths from dengue fever and it had only 250 cases as of June 2019.
  4. Both children and adults in Palau have a dependence on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. The country has created many educational efforts and protective laws for children, but despite these efforts, 70 percent of children chew on a drug called betel nut. The betel nut which has been a part of cultural practices since the 1970s is a popular and accessible drug on the island. According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, ingesting this drug can lead to oral cancers, stomach ulcers and heart disease when used regularly.
  5. Estimates determined the infant mortality to be 14 deaths to 1,000 live births as of 2015 in Palau, which was a 55 percent decrease since 1990.  Palau’s National Health Profile explains that 75 percent of expecting mothers used betel nut and tobacco during their pregnancy between 2007 and 2013. These were the main causes of the high rate of preterm complications that resulted in deaths of newborns. Along with these two risks, the health profile also highlights that overweight and obese mothers had a higher risk of preterm delivery as well. Because health services have become more available, mothers are now receiving education and given prenatal care preventing the infant mortality rate from going up.
  6. Health care and health services are becoming accessible to more and more families and children which has caused the mortality rate to decrease on the islands. Obesity still remains a problem for 24 percent of children, though. Many children do not have any knowledge of good eating habits and do not participate in any physical activity. Humanium reports that only 10 percent of children are eating fruits and vegetables in Palau.
  7. Palau reportedly has approximately 300 children with special needs on the registry with the Health Department but only around 189 are receiving special education services. Most special needs kids will receive health care, education and social services up until the age of 21. Once they reach 21 years of age there are not many resources on the small country to assist them in adapting and transitioning into the adult life which leaves these families without any aid.
  8. Although crime rates are low in Palau, emergencies do happen and getting help from police officers or medical personnel can be very difficult. The ability for police officers and ambulances to respond to crimes and medical emergencies can sometimes be very limited because of the lack of essential equipment, response vehicles and roads on the island. Ambulances often do not have proper equipment or staff. In rural areas receiving ambulance services is much more limited.
  9. Pollution affects 25 percent of the available drinking water in Palau. Groundwater pollution is caused by poorly maintained septic tanks and saltwater intrusion while land-based pollution, gasoline and oil from motors and ships impact coastal waters. Due to the ongoing development of the country, further pollution from sewages, chemicals and oil spills will be unavoidable if people do not control them which could greatly affect the country’s population.
  10. Seventy-one percent of the population in Palau live in urban areas on the islands of Koror and Airai. People without land rights must lease houses from the government which are usually one or two-story homes made of wood or cement with tin roofs. Living conditions are improving, however, due to the work of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the National Development Bank of Palau. They have been working together to create homes which will use less energy and reduce dependence on petroleum fuels that are imported to the island every year. Although this is an ongoing project having built only 60 homes, the improvement in living conditions will not only help the environment but also the people of this small country.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Palau show progress within its 340 islands. Government officials are putting many efforts into fixing the issues that Palau and its people are facing. By creating programs to help aid the disabled, providing education on health issues, passing laws to receive the funds necessary for treatments and starting new projects such as the building of energy-efficient homes, Palau is on the right track to bettering life on its islands.

– Jannette Aguirre
Photo: Flickr