Drugs in the Global Village
Costa Rica

Trends in Drug Abuse

Extent of Drug Abuse: According to a 1988 study of the Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency (IAFA), 35 per cent of the population has abused drugs at least once in their lives. The drug reported most abused is cannabis (9.1 per cent), followed by tranquilizers and inhalants (8.5 per cent each), and cocaine (5.7 per cent) (CICAD 1993).
Drug abuse is much higher among high risk groups as indicated by studies conducted in emergency rooms and detention centers. Analgesics are the most abused drug, according to a 1993 study among 1496 patients treated in emergency rooms, with an estimated Life ("ever"abuse) prevalence of 97 per cent. Tranquilizers are the next most abused drug, with prevalence estimated at 21 per cent. Other drugs abused include cannabis (7.2 per cent), cocaine (3.3 per cent), crack (2 per cent), and others as shown in the table 1 (CICAD 1993).

Table 1. Life Prevalence of Illicit Drug Abuse among Emergency Room Patients, 1992- 1993.
            Life                  Life
                                    Prevalence        Prevalence
                                    1992                1992
Analgesics                    63.3%              96.7%
Tranquilizers                 6%                   21.1%
Cannabis                      3.4%                7.2%
Cocaine                        1.9%                3.3%
Crack                           #                      2%
Coca Paste                   #                      0.4%
Inhalants                       0.6%                1.3%
Hallucinogens               0.7%                1.2%
Stimulants                     3.7%                1%
Heroin                          0.1%                0.2%
Other Opiates               0.3%                0.3%
# In 1992, subjects were only asked about cocaine abuse. In 1993, crack and coca-paste were included.
Source: CICAD, 1993.

The same study was conducted in a detention center in San Sebastian (male population only). The most abused illicit drug was also analgesics, with an estimate of 84.5 per cent life prevalence, followed by cannabis (67 per cent), cocaine (49.5 per cent), tranquilizers (37 per cent), and stimulants (16 per cent) (CICAD 1993).
Abuse is reported higher in 1993 than in 1992 and there are more drug abusers reported among detainees than among emergency room patients (CICAD 1993).
Drug registry data for 1991 indicate indicates that there were 273 persons registered. Cannabis is the most abused drug (30 per cent) among those registered, followed by crack (22 per cent) and cocaine (19 per cent). Other drugs abused included tranquilizers (11 per cent), inhalants (6 per cent) and unspecified others (U.N. 1992).
Abuser Characteristics: The 1993 emergency room study indicates that males (5 per cent) abuse cocaine more than females (2 per cent). For tranquilizers, no significant difference in abuse was found between males and females (CICAD 1993).
According to registry data, most abusers in 1992 are 20-34 years of age (65 per cent). A reported 18 per cent are 15-19 of age, 13 per cent are 35 and over and 4 per cent are 15 years of age or less (U.N. 1992).
Most cocaine abusers are reported between 18-35 years old and cannabis abusers are between 15-35 years of age. Inhalant abusers are the youngest, being 6-14 years of age, most are orphans or abandoned (U.N. 1988; PAHO 1990).
Regional Variations: Most cocaine abusers are reported to come from the capital and from urban and coastal regions. Cannabis abusers come from both urban and semi-rural regions. Abusers of inhalants are mostly children from urban and marginal populations (U.N. 1988).
Trends: UNDCP key informants survey as well as emergency and detention room studies indicate an increase in the abuse of cocaine, crack and cannabis. Some increase in the abuse of opiates, synthetic narcotic analgesics, amphetamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepine and other sedatives is also noted. Abuse of hallucinogens has remained stable (U.N. 1992; CICAD 1993).
Mode of intake: Cocaine is commonly sniffed but injection is also reported (U.N. 1988).

Costs and Consequences of Abuse
In 1992, there has been an increase in criminal behavior, family disruption, road accidents, disruptions in school, violence and mortality attributed to drug abuse (U.N. 1992).
There is a total of 117 cases of HIV infection, with 9 new cases reported in 1992. Two percent of the new cases are attributed to IVDU. One new case of IDVU attributed HIV was reported in 1992 (U.N. 1992).
Fifteen cases of drug-related deaths were reported in the first semester of 1991 (U.N. 1992).

National Responses to Drug Abuse
National Strategy: A National Drug Council (Consejo Nacional de Drogas, CONADRO) coordinates efforts to reduce drug abuse supply and demand. It aims to provide a coherent approach to research, control, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. The Instituto sobre Alcoholismo y Farmacodependencia (IAFA) and CONADRO collaborate on a National Integration Plan on Drug Abuse (U.N. 1992; PAHO 1990).
Structure of National Drug Control Organs: The central government unit responsible for liaison and coordination of national drug control policy is Consejo Nacional de drogas (National Council for Drugs), an integral part of the Ministry of Health, Justice, Education, Security and Governing.

Actions Taken to Implement International Drug Control Treaties**
Treaty adherence: Costa Rica is party to the 1961 Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the 1971 Convention and the 1988 Convention.

Measures Taken with Respect to Drug Control

Recently enacted laws and regulations:

None reported.
Licensing system for manufacture, trade and distribution:
There is a licensing system. No psychotropic substances or narcotic drugs were reported being manufactured in 1988.
Control system:
(i) Prescription requirement: There is a prescription requirement for supply or dispensation of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
(ii) Warnings on packages: The law requires warnings on packages or accompanying leaflet information to safeguard the users of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
(iii) Control of non-treaty substances, if any: None reported.
(iv) Other administrative measures: None reported.

Social Measures
Penal Sanctions related to social measures:
In 1988, courts applied measures of treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation or social reintegration for a drug-related offence both as an alternative and in addition to conviction or punishment.
Other social measures: Various activities were reported having been undertaken in the area of socio-economic development and education in 1988.

Demand Reduction Activities
Primary Prevention: Drug prevention efforts are on the increase. Prevention activities are common in primary and secondary schools, as well as among other youth and street children (U.N. 1992).
Civic groups, parent-teacher associations and law enforcement agencies contribute to the formulation of programmes in schools and in the community; trade unions are involved in programme development targeting the work place; voluntary organizations and religious groups assist the prison population and sports clubs target players and athletes. Information (such as pamphlets and publications) on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation is provided to workers in some organizations. Basic training is part of the education of doctors, nurses and pharmacists. Other health workers, social workers and law enforcement personnel receive further training courses. Mass media (television, newspaper, videos and music) campaigns target various groups and especially alcoholic women, youth and drug dependent abusers (U.N. 1992).
Treatment and Rehabilitation: In 1992, 273 patients were registered in a total of 51 treatment facilities, including 27 specialized detoxification centers, 23 general hospitals and one psychiatric hospital. There were 203 patients seeking treatment for the first time. The relapse rate one year after treatment is reported at about 3.7 per cent (U.N. 1992).
In all prisons there are drug counselling programmes, counselling on drug related diseases and general education and prevention programmes (U.N. 1992).
IAFA is funded by the government to develop programmes for treatment and rehabilitation. In addition, there are treatment centers organized by the Salvation Army, Alcoholic Anonymous, Hogares CREA (a network specifically concerned with the rehabilitation of male abusers) and the Refugio de la Esperanza, run by the Salvation Army but devoted to the treatment of drug abusers (PAHO 1990).

Supply Reduction Activities
Arrests, Convictions and types of Offences: The number of arrests for illicit drug traffic or possession has ioncreased from 105 persons in 1989 to 487 persons arrested in 1992 (CICAD 1993b).
Seizures: A reported 30473 kg of cannabis herb, 19248 kg of cannabis plants, 2157.4 kg of cocaine (base and salts) and 5170 of heroin were seized in 1992.
Supply Source of Drugs: No information reported by 31st December 1993.

References and Notes

** The Legal, Administrative and Other Action Taken to Implement the International Drug Control Treaties section was prepared by the Secretariat of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs based on Annual Reports Questionnaires for the year 1988.

U.N. 1988 and 1992. Replies to UNDCP Annual Reports Questionnaire for the years 1988 and 1992. 

CICAD 1993. Drug Surveillance System in Central America, Panama, and Dominican Republic. Epidemiologic Trends in Drug Abuse. CICAD/OAS/PAHO, 1993.

CICAD 1993b. First Report to the Inter-American Data Bank to the CICAD.

PAHO 1990 Bulletin of the PAHO, Epidemiologic Report on the Use and Abuse of Psychoactive Substances in 16 Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. Special Issue on Drug Abuse, Vol.24, no.1. pp 97-140. 1990.