By Xiu Ying, Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – One of the most famous neighborhoods of São Paulo, even if for not such noble reasons, Cracolândia (Crackland) has hosted several public policies by São Paulo’s mayors, and on Thursday (ninth) it was the subject of an event at the University of São Paulo (USP) on various issues related to drug use.

From the With Open Arms (Braços Abertos) initiative by the Workers Party (PT) management to the Redemption Program (Redenção), supported until today by the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) government, experts, scientists, and doctors address the challenges of aiding users of prohibited drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, as well as of those legalized, such as alcohol.

According to experts in collective drug use brought together at the symposium, it is best to retain users in a single location in the city and focus healthcare in that area.

However, others believe that it is more efficient to monitor them in smaller groups spread across the city as these can be more accessible.

Psychiatrist Arthur Guerra, the coordinator of the “Redenção” program, stated that from a public health perspective, it would be easier to address several groups of 20 people than a single group of 4,000.

One of the most controversial aspects of this debate is finding a balance between “harm reduction” measures and abstinence-based treatment.

Guerra said that the São Paulo City Hall, currently under the management of Bruno Covas, views drug addiction as a public health issue. Consequently, it must bear in mind all these factors. He says that “we need to identify what each patient needs and build a ‘unique therapeutic program’ alongside health workers. Abstinence would be a great goal to achieve, but it’s challenging, it’s almost a dream. So we also work with harm reduction strategies, the legacy of the old administration Haddad”.

Although many health professionals are opposed to the legalization of drugs currently prohibited, such as marijuana, other scientists advocate therapeutic use.

“Caffeine is consumed freely, inclusively by children who drink soft drinks indiscriminately, and it is not prohibited,” said historian Henrique Carneiro, of USP.

From a historical point of view, he studies the relationship of humanity and asserts that the phenomenon of drugs is by no means redundant: “It is a constituent of the animal condition. In the flora there is also a search for psychoactive substances by animals,” he said.

According to Carneiro, definitions as to what is food and what is drug has always depended on cultural parameters – from the 20th century on, three drugs have been established as legal in the West: tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine, while opium, cocaine, and marijuana have been branded as illegal. “The public and state legalization of some drugs is contingent to their context,” he said.

He believes that even the heaviest drugs, if properly regulated and controlled, could be legalized. “Since the industrial revolution, the ingestion of stimulants in the morning has become vital to overcoming the daily routine, for instance.”

The same way that society’s perception of some drugs changes does the way we deal with chemical dependence, such as alcoholism.

In 2016, the harmful use of alcohol resulted in about 3 million deaths worldwide (5.3 percent of all deaths), according to a report by the WHO’s (World Health Organization) Health and Alcohol Information Center (Cisa).

The rationale behind With Open Arms is that individuals can reduce their problematic drug use on their own accord if provided with the opportunity to improve their quality of life, and, importantly, when they are not being criminalized and punished by strict drug laws.

Under Doria’s intended approach of the Redenção (Redemption), people [with problematic drug use] can have medical care. They can be rescued from their own lives, but those who are criminals will face the force of law and will be arrested.

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