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  • Victoria DuCharme (in collaboration with Kailea

The Crackland Merry Go Round

Media Content Source: Rose Studio-

Kids in the Crackland Merry Go Round: An Exploration of Drug Trafficking in Brazil, How it Affects its Children and Recommendations for Improvement

Law enforcement. Arrests. Incarceration. This has been Brazil’s approach to dealing with its devastating drug trafficking problem. Children are not only growing up around drugs but are also using them as well and then selling their bodies without the use of protection, birthing another generation of drug-dependent street children who are unable to escape the cycle of addiction. The answer as to why Brazil continues its “war on drugs” lies in its inability to formulate effective drug policy, a lack of rehabilitation resources and a lack of an education on drug prevention.

“Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws,” (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime). Brazil’s proximity to Columbia ,who is notorious for holding 50% of the cocaine industry (Jenner, 905), is cause for most of the country’s cocaine production and distribution. When drug traffickers distribute drugs such as cocaine, it often falls into the hands of children and young adults. These individuals use cocaine, in addition to substances like “Cola,” (an industrial glue), before prostituting themselves out (Williams- Thomas).

Cracolândia, or “Crackland” in English, is a district in São Paulo, Brazil. A day in the life of a child drug addict in Crackland is heartbreaking. Calliem, a fourteen year old girl is a “regular user of cola [industrial glue in a plastic bottle], grass, and crack,” (Williams- Thomas). She first sold her body for sex at the age of eleven. Yara, a forty-one year old woman who has been on the streets since she was seven, explained that “local men and tourists...are picking up young girls and boys for sex,” and the children go along with it because “they are high on drugs or need more money to buy the next drugs” (Williams- Thomas). In addition to the cycle of addiction, the vicious cycle of using drugs to sell oneself so that one can get money to buy more drugs to sell oneself, keeps these children and adults trapped in Crackland.

The drug addiction cycle is like any other addiction cycle. It begins with the initial use of a substance, then getting accustomed to the substance until it becomes a habit. The habit turns into abuse and the abuse turns into dependence. After dependence, one might try and quite using the substance only to go into withdrawls, which can have very uncomfortable and painful symptoms. After withdrawal, the user will likely relapse until it becomes a habit and the cycle begins once again (American Addiction Centers).

Fortunately, the drug addiction cycle is possible to break, although difficult without resources that most third world countries do not have access to like counseling, rehab programs, and peer or familial support (American Addiction Centers). However, it can still be done if one is determined enough. Kailea Allen Martin, a peer who researched cycles of addiction, says that stages of breaking the addiction cycle include, precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance. Precontemplation is when the thought of quitting crosses one’s mind but is quickly replaced with the thought that “it is impossible.” Contemplation is the consideration of quitting. Preparation is the mental and physical preparing of oneself to quit. Action is the actual quitting of using the substance and/or seeking treatment or resources or help to quit. Maintenance is the continuation of the action stage (Hartney & Ganes).

Knowing how the addiction cycle works and how it can be broken is a vital aspect to consider when formulating drug policy. Most addicts like the ones in Crackland don’t need incarceration or arrests, they need intervention and an education on drug prevention. Another significant detail of the lives of individuals in Crackland, is that many of them perpetuate the cycle of addiction in another way: reproduction.

Emi Krueger, a peer who researched the lives of individuals in Crackland, reports that, “many young women have become mothers on the streets of Crackland. These pregnancies can either lead to recovery or death. One mother who remains anonymous was pregnant with her fifth child at the time she was interviewed. Her “other four had been kidnapped, abandoned, or had abandoned her” (Gonsalves). If children do survive to grow older on and around Crackland, they are susceptible to becoming users, dealers, or sex workers. Danilo Verpa, Juliana Gragnani, and Leandro Machado of Folha De S.Paulo, witnessed a boy selling crack at Crackland’s ‘bazaar.’ They also spoke to a thirteen year old boy who said, “I’m a user, yes, but I do not live here” (Verpa, Gragnani, & Machado). Danilo is an example of how even children who have homes and don’t live in the streets, will still buy and use drugs.”

In summary, child street addicts without access to birth control or other protections and without access to a reproductive health education will only populate Brazil’s streets with more child street addicts, thus, perpetuating the dangerous and nearly insurmountable cycle of addiction and likely prostitution, for another generation who will likely pass it on to their own children.

It is imperative that this sexual exploitation and dependency on drugs for an income stops. Brazil was on the right track with their 2006 policy but it was proven to be ineffective. São Paulo was on the right track with their “With Open Arms” program but as is explained in the following sections, it was shut down due to the political climate.

There is a desperate need for policies that effectively reduce drug trafficking and the number of individuals who are dependent on that system. The real evil is drug trafficking because without drug distribution, a user has no drugs to use. Notably in 2006, Brazil implemented a drug policy to try to reduce the amount of incarcerated drug users and to try and focus more on incarcerating drug traffickers. However, this policy proved to be ineffective as it continued to imprison drug users despite the supposed emphasis on incarcerating drug traffickers instead (Muñoz). “These arrests have caused disproportionate harm to vulnerable groups in society, and have increased pressure on an already slow and ineffective criminal justice system, contributing to prison overcrowding, draining economic resources and causing much avoidable human suffering,” (Oliveira Carlos, 10). In general, decriminalizing drug use (Cardoso) with Brazil’s national drug legislation (Miraglia, 12) could be the best route to success. Although the 2006 policy addressed this (Muñoz), sentencing never significantly changed. The existing policy would have to implement more lenient sentencing for drug use and harsher sentencing for drug trafficking or an entirely new, stricter policy would need to be proposed and enforced. Brazil’s criminal justice system also needs to reinvent itself, placing less of an emphasis on “punitive approaches,” (Miraglia).

Another recommendation for Brazil and São Paulo is police reform. Although Brazil’s law enforcement has increased their overall presence, they often use more aggressive tactics, which is ineffective in prevention of any kind (Miraglia, 12). Prioritizing a stronger presence but with less militaristic tactics would be more effective. Law enforcement brutality has shown to create more tension within a community instead of less (Miraglia, 12).

It is important for Brazilian legislation to consider why there might a drug problem to begin with. Income and healthcare are two of the major reasons. Brazil needs a popular, funded program that would allow for young people to make an income that doesn’t involve the use of drugs or prostitution. Brazil also needs improved access to healthcare. Brazilians are often self-medicating with more hazardous drugs like cocaine because it can be cheaper than a doctor’s visit (Cardoso) and easier to obtain than a safer substance.

At the very least, São Paulo and Brazil is in desperate need of rehabilitation centers for young or older adults who wish to escape the endless cycle of drug abuse and prostitution. There are a few rehabilitation centers in São Paulo. One of them is Complexo Prates, which has “a health unit that sees around 100 cases a day for assessments, prescriptions of antidepressants, counselling sessions and various types of therapy” (Watts). Centro de Referência de Álcool, Tabaco e Outras Drogas, or CRATOD, is another drug-treatment center available for addicts. One well known rehabilitation program in São Paulo was De Braços Abertos, or ‘With Open Arms.’ It began in 2014 and helped over 400 addicts receive food, housing in hotels, and “basic medical services in exchange for work” (Bansal). Unfortunately, in May of 2017, Mayor Joao Doria and his officials shut down De Braços Abertos. They “emptied out and demolished local ‘hotels’ and pensions, evicting entire families, offering no alternative housing or childcare” (Samora). This unfortunate incident reveals how Brazil’s uneasy political climate can also negatively impact drug policy and how it is implemented. More rehabilitation programs are necessary if the conditions in São Paulo are ever going to improve and these programs should never be affected or threatened by the district’s political atmosphere.

The final recommendation for Brazil and São Paulo is education on drug prevention. If a population knows the detrimental effects of drugs, they are less likely to perpetuate the cycle of addiction. An educational policy can be introduced into schools, clinics, and even community areas. The United States has a program called Keepin’ It REAL, a D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. Although its positive effects on reducing drug use is debatable (Caputi & McLellan), at this point, can Brazil really afford to turn down a possible solution?

Until Brazil and São Paulo can focus on implementing an effective drug policy that targets trafficking instead of drug using, and introduce and keep more rehabilitation resources as well as introduce drug prevention education, drug trafficking rates will continue to increase, taking many Brazilian children as victims. Until there are more rehabilitation centers and programs to help those who are desperate to climb out of the addiction cycle, drug abuse will prevail. Yet, the citizens of Crackland themselves need to advocate for change. Addiction cycles are almost impossible to end by force, rather the person stuck in the cycle must want to break it. There is only so much others can do in the case of Crackland, but adding effective policies, rehabilitation centers and other programs will truly make an impact in convincing the people of Crackland that change is possible. That it is possible for the Crackland Merry-Go-Round to come to a stop.

It is also possible to help the Crackland Merry-Go-Round to come to an end. If one wished to get involved in another way besides raising awareness, one can visit the site, “Task (The Abandoned Street Kids) Brazil” and look at their “Get Involved,” page. One can volunteer to help, fundraise for or donate to Brazilian street kids (Digit New Media).

(Research was originally conducted and presented for a project at Northern Arizona University).

Works Cited

“The Addiction Cycle: Phases of the Chronically Relapsing Disease.” American Addiction Centers, American Addiction Centers,

Bansal, S. (2015, February 11). A Night In São Paulo's Crackland.

Barroso, L. R. (2018). Brazil must legalise drugs – its existing policy just destroys lives.

Caputi, Theodore L, and A. Thomas McLellan. “Truth and D.A.R.E.: Is D.A.R.E.'s New Keepin' It REAL Curriculum Suitable for American Nationwide Implementation?” Taylor & Francis Online, 11 Aug. 2016,

Cardoso, F. H. (2014, November 10). Five Ways to End the Drug War; Start by Decriminalizing Drug Use.

de Oliveira Carlos, Juliana. “Drug Policy and Incarceration in São Paulo, Brazil.” International Drug Policy Consortium, IDPC, June 2015,

Dijit New Media, 44 20 7436 5222, “Task Brazil- Get Involved .” Task Brasil - The Abandoned Street Kids of Brazil Trust,

Gonsalves, K. (2017, August 21). Inside Sao Paulo's Crackland.

Hartney, Elizabeth, and Steven Gans. “The Different Stages of How to Overcome Addiction.” Verywell Mind,


Inciardi, J. A., & Surratt, H. L. (1998). Children in the streets of Brazil: drug use, crime, violence, and HIV risks.

Substance use & misuse, 33(7), 1461-1480.

Jenner, M. S. (2011). International Drug Trafficking: A Global Problem with a Domestic Solution.

Miraglia, P. (2016). Drugs and Drug Trafficking in Brazil: Trends and Policies.

Muñoz, C. (2016, August 8). Ten Years of Drug Policy Failure in Brazil.

Rodrigues Samora, P. (2017, June 16). At what cost gentrification? São Paulo expels drug users and razes buildings to ‘revitalise Crackland’.

Watts, J. (2013, May 09). Cracolândia: The crack capital of Brazil where addicts are forced to seek help.

Williams- Thomas, M. (2014, June 9). Brazil’s darker side – drug addiction and child exploitation.

“Drug Trafficking .” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,

Verpa, D., Gragnani, J., & Machado, L. (2017, June 12). Incursão na cracolândia revela ação do tráfico, trocas por drogas e até um bar.



VICTORIA DUCHARME is a dual major in Psychology and Spanish at Northern Arizona University. She loves cats and Marvel movies. She eventually wants conduct clinical research to study adolescents' childhoods and how it affects their world views, perceptions and personality.

#advocacy #news #currentevents #makingadifference #hope #policy #change

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