Marlene Rodriguez is a Santa Clara resident and the mother of a youth suffering the consequences of drug abuse.
"A lot of kids take drugs, as it's very easy to get them at the recreation centers where they meet up," she explained, distraught. She reported that her daughter Geidy got involved with such substances "at parties with her friends."
"The times I've been through are indescribable," she said. She shared that she even resorted to spying on her daughter because was stealing money or "took anything at all, to sell it."
"That was hell. It even cost me a divorce with her father," lamented 43-year-old Marlene, with tears in her eyes.
Cases like this are not uncommon in Villa Clara, where "the drugs having the biggest impact are legal: alcohol, tobacco and psychotropic substances," according to Dr. Yolanda Díaz Espinosa, a specialist in Psychiatry.
Meanwhile, Mercedes Barrios, an expert in Toxicology with the Ministry of Health, identified the country's most affected provinces as Havana, Holguin, Santiago de Cuba and Villa Clara.
A growing trend
While it is true that Cuba is among the countries with the lowest drug addiction rates, in the past 15 years there has been an increase, according to specialists.
Last November a total of 22 drug overdoses were recorded in Villa Clara, a record for one month in that area.
"Patients consumed, illegally, psychotropic drugs like Parquisonil, Amitriptyline, Levomepromazine, among other medications that, together with alcohol, have harmful effects," said an anonymous source from the MINSAP (Public Health Ministry) in the province.
The sale of these products at pharmacies is strictly controlled by the health authorities, but they can be found on the black market.
"Unfortunately they are obtained through diversions, thefts at factories, warehouses or pharmacies, or at health centers where, in many cases, they are sold without prescriptions," said the MINSAP source.
In recent months, moreover, "marijuana and cocaine consumption has been reported," he added.
The source added that each month "an average of 15 people with overdose symptoms from these substances are treated," over 90% of them "age 30 or younger."
Feeling "really good"
Feeling "really good," trying something new, doing what others do, overcoming shyness, changing one's personality, accepting the challenge ... these are some of the reasons given by youths who "play" with potentially fatal mixtures of drugs and alcohol.
To better understand these reasons 30 young people ranging in age from 14 to 20 who study or live in the towns of Santa Clara and Placetas were brought together. It was found that, although they may understand the dangerous health implications of these habits, most still associate them with fun.
It was found that both women and men consume drugs in festive settings, at nightclubs or in parks, with friends, although some reported "popping pills" at school or at home.
"In many countries the use of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes has displaced the consumption of the classic drugs," explained psychiatrist Díaz Espinosa.
She further noted that the fact that many drugs can be found at home, "mean that they are accessible and, therefore, mixed with other substances."
"It is essential to address this issue because psychotropic drugs for these purposes ranks third or fourth worldwide amongst the most consumed drugs," said the expert.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol abuse causes 2.5 million deaths each year. Some 320.000 young people, ages 15 to 29, die each year, representing 9% of deaths in this population group.
There are an estimated 400.000 alcoholics in Cuba, 800.000 "at-risk drinkers," and approximately 1.200.000 family members living with and affected by them.
Sara González Alejo, a Social Sciences professor at the Universidad Central Marta Abreu, in Las Villas, reported that alcoholism is "on the rise in Cuba." She noted that the percentage of people who actually drink alcoholic beverages "is greater than that cited in the analysis of the health situation."
González Alejo stated that it is significant that adolescents and young people in the country "consume alcoholic beverages with great frequency," and that efforts to decrease the use of toxic substances "should focus on prevention."
"We must raise awareness, because legal drugs are the primary channel towards the use of illegal ones," she said.