San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Report finds drug use increasing in Costa Rica

From the print edition

Kids these days.

They’re getting high younger than before and more of them are doing it, according to the 2010 Costa Rica Household Survey of Drug Use, released Monday.

The major takeaways from the survey executed by the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Institute (IAFA) are that teenagers are starting to smoke pot at an average age of 16.5. That number is down from 2006, when the average age for experimenting with pot was 17.6, and from 1990, when it was 19.1. 

Additionally, the number of folks aged 12-70 who indicated they’d smoked marijuana in the past month more than tripled from 2006. In 2010, 2 percent of those surveyed indicated they’d smoke cannabis within the month, while in 2006, that number was only 0.6 percent.

“The perception of risk young people have of marijuana is low,” said IAFA psychologist Margarita Odio in a statement released Monday. “Some don’t think about the effects this can cause in their bodies.”

Odio said marijuana of different qualities and varieties is easy to find in much of Costa Rica.

“Added to that is an increase in cultural movements where cannabis forms part of a lifestyle attracting many youths,” Odio said.

Overall, according to survey results, men aged 20-30 are the biggest marijuana consumers in the country, with 5.4 percent in that age group reporting weekly use. Most women who use pot, about 2.5 percent of total women surveyed, are younger than 20.

“Data provided by U.S. researchers show that nine of 100 people who have tried marijuana could generate dependency, and those who initiate use before age 18 increase those chances to 16 of every 100 young people,” said Ernesto Cortés, an IAFA researcher.

According to IAFA, young marijuana consumers face a higher risk of developing dependence or other negative side effects because THC, the active compound that gives marijuana users a high, adheres more easily to developing neurotransmitters in their brains.

In terms of other drugs, lifetime use of cocaine has increased in Costa Rica from 0.5 percent of people surveyed in 1990 to 1.8 percent in 2006 and 3 percent in 2010. Usage rates within the last month increased from 0.1 percent in 2006 (the same as reported in 1990) to 0.6 percent in 2010. 

As with marijuana, men are the principal consumers of cocaine in Costa Rica, with 4.7 percent of men surveyed reporting use in their lifetime compared with only 1.1 percent of women. 

Men and women aged 20-29 are the largest group of cocaine consumers in the country, according to IAFA’s survey results.

“The incidence rate of cocaine use for 2010 is 2.8 per 1,000 inhabitants, showing an increase from the 2006 study, which showed that the incidence was 2.3 per 1,000 inhabitants,” the IAFA report said. “There remains an important difference in men [4.2 per 1,000 inhabitants] with respect to women [1.5 per 1,000].”

The average age at which survey respondents indicated they first tried cocaine was 19, slightly older than for alcohol (17.4) and marijuana (16.7).

The report concluded that despite an increase in cocaine use over the past 20 years in Costa Rica, lifetime-use and past-month-use indicators suggest that most individuals who experiment with the drug “do not continue active consumption of the substance.”

Crack cocaine use also showed slight increases from 2006, with 0.2 percent of respondents indicating they had used crack in the past month in 2010. That is up from 0.1 percent in 2006. Lifetime use of crack in 2010 was pegged at 1.2 percent of those surveyed, up from 0.9 percent in 2006. The average age for beginning crack use in 2010 was 19.5, older than the previous average of 18.6 in 2006.

“The rates per 1,000 of population for first-time crack use are low compared to rates for other drugs, such as marijuana, alcohol or tobacco,” the report stated. 

However, the report also noted that both cocaine and crack use have shown slight overall increases in recent years.

“This pattern of increase has revealed the existence of a population who tend to start consuming these substances,” the report reads. “Which is why it is advisable to continue the search for new strategies to reduce or stabilize the growth of prevalence levels for drugs that make up this group of derivatives of the coca leaf.”

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