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A cheap but highly addictive new drug is spreading rapidly across Brazil, leaving experts worried that the country could face a new narcotics crisis to match the one which followed the introduction of crack cocaine over a decade ago.

Nicknamed ÒoxiÓ Ð rust Ð the drug is made from raw cocaine paste which is soaked in gasoline and mixed with limestone powder and solvents, sometimes even battery fluids, before being dried into rocks and smoked in a pipe.

Unlike laboratory-refined powdered cocaine and its derivative crack, it requires little expertise to make oxi.

Of even more concern, it is far cheaper to produce than crack making it a more attractive drug for addicts at just a fifth of the price per hit. A single rock typically costs less than one euro Ð just a fifth of the cost of a rock of crack.

Like crack, users report an ecstatic high within seconds of smoking the rock but experts warn that oxi destroys people far more quickly.

ÒOxi is as addictive as crack but far more destructive on the body. As a drug it is far less pure than crack. Along with the cocaine users are inhaling gasoline, sulphuric acid and limestone into their lungs. It destroys addictsÕ body tissue and many die within six months,Ó says toxicologist Dr Anthony Wong of the Clinicas Hospital in S?o Paulo.

Oxi first appeared in 2004 in the remote Amazonian state of Acre which borders the cocaine producing countries of Peru and Bolivia. As a cheap, potent high it quickly became popular among street children and spread to other states in the Amazonian region.

Now the drug is sweeping across the country, sparking a media scare and fears of its impact among BrazilÕs estimated 600,000 drug addicts.

In the last month alone police made their first oxi seizures in states as far away as Rio Grande do Sul in the far south of the country and in Piau? in the remote northeast.

Two weeks ago police in Rio de Janeiro made what they believe is the first seizure of the drug in the state when a dealer was arrested with 18 rocks he identified as oxi. In S?o Paulo there have been several seizures in the region known as cracol?ndia Ð crackland Ð where for years hundreds of addicts have bought and smoked crack cocaine openly on the streets. Last week a 13-year-old dealer was arrested in cracol?ndia while in possession of 161 oxi rocks and ?425.

His arrest followed the largest seizure of the drug so far in BrazilÕs biggest city when 5,000 oxi rocks were found in a favela.

ÒThis drug has the potential to wreck the sort of havoc that crack did when it first appeared 16 years ago and became a major source of violence in the country,Ó says Dr Wong, who in the 1990s was one of the first experts to warn about an impending crack epidemic. ÒBecause it is so cheap oxi has the potential to become very popular among poor drug users. But because the life span of oxi addicts is so short maybe this will act as a deterrent.Ó


© 2011 The Irish Times

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