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The most frequently mentioned problem associated with cocaine use is a perceived increase in crime, particularly theft and violence. Cocaine use is said to disrupt families, contribute to unemployment or decreased productivity, promote juvenile delinquency, increase prostitution, and promote corruption (particularly within law enforcement agencies).
Crack and coca paste use are associated with violence, unemployment and social marginalization. What is not clear is whether the drug use causes unemployment and violence, or whether all of these social problems are caused by the often systemic or societal problems related to poverty and social marginalization.
The Key Studies show that the relationship between cocaine use and violence is very complex. Half of all centres profess no knowledge of a link between cocaine use and aggression, or state that informants hold very mixed opinions on this issue. Only Cairo, Flagstaff, Harare, Medellin, Quito and Seoul assert that cocaine use frequently promotes violence. More surprising is the disparity between what users and intermediaries say about violence and what is said by professionals. Users and intermediaries, who are generally stressing the positive aspects of cocaine use, are more likely to think cocaine use promotes violence. Professionals, who invariably stress the negative aspects of cocaine use, are least likely to associate use with violent behaviour. A majority of consultants in Barcelona, Cochabamba, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney and Vancouver conclude that cocaine consumption has no correlation with violent behaviour.
Legal problems are rated as more common and more severe for high-dose, long-term users but are uncommon among casual users. Chief concerns mentioned by informants are drug possession, trafficking or sale, or crimes (such as fraud, assault, robbery or sex work) committed to obtain funds to purchase cocaine. Consultants in Quito, Mexico City and Providence note that a user’s ability to manage legal problems often varies with the user’s socioeconomic status: arrest is common for poorer or minority users, while wealthier individuals and those with political influence are regarded as virtually immune from police action.
Obtaining cocaine and coca products in those countries where possession, use and supply are illegal poses many hazards including the potential for fraud, extortion or assault. The greatest threat to most users is the threat of police involvement. Coca products purchased on the “black market” are often adulterated or “cut” with a range of additives from sodium bicarbonate, aspirin, laxatives or amphetamines to sugar, flour, powdered milk and powdered brick.
Most respondents and centres report that cocaine use has a negative effect on the users financial status. Many also note that intensive and uncontrolled users face the strong possibility of dismissal from work and long-term unemployment, leaving such users destitute. However, half of all centres state that financial effects vary depending on the characteristics of users and consumption patterns. For example, respondents in Vancouver report that occasional users suffer little or no financial distress even after many years of use. A few respondents pointed out that cocaine comprises a profitable industry for producers and distributors, and some communities.
Many countries find that cocaine use leads to negative effects on social interaction, with regular cocaine users becoming increasingly isolated, distrustful and focused on finding and using more cocaine. However, people may become intensive users because of social isolation and family problems. Informants in Barcelona, Providence, Sydney and Vancouver find that cocaine use has an extremely positive influence on social interaction, leading to occasional users being talkative, engaging and popular.
Similarly, while most centres state that cocaine use leads to breakdowns in relationships with family and friends, many informants believe occasional or controlled cocaine use has no consequences for these relationships. Some respondents note that families may be ashamed of users and reject them, while others suggest that intensive users may act in a more suspicious, aggressive or violent manner so that partners and family members may begin to fear and isolate the user. Flagstaff and Sydney users predict that partnerships are more vulnerable if both partners are cocaine consumers, due to the potential for competition for access to cocaine to provoke conflict.
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