By Patricia Maresch, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It looks like crack, but it is much cheaper, four times more lethal and called “oxi” or “oxidado” (rust). It’s a cocaine derivative, just like crack, but it contains kerosene or gasoline, acetone, battery fluid and other chemicals. The highly addictive drug is smoked, but there are also cases of oxi being grounded up in cigarettes or snorted as powder, and has been showing up in Brazil in alarming rates.
Oxi is known as ‘the drug of death’ because it’s extremely harmful to the body and addictive right after the first try. “You use oxi once, and you want to use it two, five, ten, twenty times,” a 25-year-old oxi-addict told Brazilian TV.
Users take on a yellowish skin color, lose weight very quickly and develop liver problems. They start to look like emaciated living corpses in just a few weeks time. The drug causes stomach aches, vomiting and constant diarrhea, but perhaps the most alarming fact is that most users die within a year.
Oxi was first spotted in Brazil in 2004 in border city Rio Branco, in the Amazon state Acre. The drug was smuggled into the country via neighboring Bolivia and Peru. Users were mostly poor, jobless people between the ages of 18 and 35.
From Acre, the drug spread to other states in Brazil’s north and has caused numerous deaths already in the northern states of Goiana, Mato Grosso do Sul, Brasilia as well as some states in the Northeast.
In the state of Piauí, for instance, eighteen oxi addicts have died since January this year. Now, experts warn, oxi is coming to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro which causes even greater concern with national authorities and public opinion.
The police say that oxi is already being sold in São Paulo, especially in an area in the city’s center known as “Cracolândia” where hundreds of homeless crack addicts reside.
There have been reports that street dealers are selling small crack-like stones for R$2 (US$ 1.20) in stead of the regular street value of crack of R$10 (US$6.30). Experts fear it’s only a matter of time before oxi hits the streets of Rio.
The effect of oxi is very fast, the drug reaches the brain within seconds, which makes the addict instantly want to consume more and more. It’s an overwhelming reaction. “You feel compelled to take it day and night, life or death don’t matter, just oxi,” said a 17-year-old user in recovery. “It absorbs your whole life.”
The Brazilian government is stepping into action: small-time street dealers are being arrested and makeshift laboratories in Brazil are tracked down and dismantled. There are also social health programs being developed. The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation is planning to set up an assistance program in Rio and wants to map the use of oxi in the country.