Cuba says drug use on the rise, especially among youth

By Thomson Reuters Apr 10, 2024 | 1:50 PM

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba said on Wednesday illegal drug use is rising on the Caribbean island, a blow to the communist-run nation that has for decades prided itself on controlling the illicit traffic and use of narcotics.

A health official said the island was moving to “control and contain” the growing use of drugs, especially among young people, but acknowledging shortfalls amid an increasingly severe economic crisis.

“In Cuba there has been an increase in recent years (in drug consumption), and adolescents and young people represent the most vulnerable group,” said Dr. Alejandro García, director of the Mental Health Center of Central Havana, in an interview in state-run newspaper Granma.

Cuba`s government has long espoused a policy of “zero tolerance” against drugs, and the island has a long-held reputation for severe punishments for all sorts of crime.

The recent economic downturn, the worst in decades, has been accompanied by a strong perception of rising crime on the island, and an increase in the use of drugs.

“The economic situation is having a great impact for various reasons,” García said, mentioning a decrease in specialized personnel. “There are municipalities that do not have psychiatrists or those who directly address the phenomenon of addictions.”

Cuban authorities said the country`s courts in 2023 had convicted 689 people linked to drug trafficking and use and noted that the Penal Code punishes “possession and trafficking of illicit drugs with penalties from 4 to 30 years in prison, including life imprisonment and up to the death sentence.”

García did not reveal the type of drugs that are being consumed on the island, but said “new chemicals” have surfaced challenging authorities ability to contain their use.

Cuba lies on a key drug trafficking route that has for decades been used by traffickers to transport cocaine, marijuana and other drugs from Central and South America north to the United States by boat and light aircraft.

(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Dave Sherwood)