Drug abuse in El Salvador

Sections

AIMS OF THE COMMITTEE
PROGRAMME CONTENT
INFORMATION CAMPAIGN
PROGRAMME OF SUPERVISION OF ADDICTS AND POTENTIAL ADDICTS, BEGUN IN 1971
THE COMMUNITY AS AN AGENT IN DRUG ABUSE CONTROL
THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
DATA OBTAINED AT THE FIRST STAGE
DATA OBTAINED AT THE SECOND STAGE
CLASSIFICATION OF ADDICTS
INTERVIEWS WITH PARENTS
GUIDANCE
FOLLOW-UP
ESTABLISHMENT OF A PILOT PROGRAMME IN EL SALVADOR

Details

Author: Pedro Antonio ANGEL PANAMENO
Pages: 37 to 44
Creation Date: 1972/01/01

Drug abuse in El Salvador *

Pedro Antonio ANGEL PANAMENO
Chief, Technical Section, National Police, San Salvador, El Salvador, C.A.

The Permanent National Committee against Drug Abuse was established on 30 April 1970 on the initiative of the Directorate-General of the National Police.

In view of the complexity of the drug abuse problem, the Committee was given a structure reflecting the specialized qualifications of its members. Ten areas of work were thus established:

Education

Health

Delinquency

Press, radio and television

Finance

Law reform

Public relations and welfare

Rehabilitation

Controls and regulations on drugs, including narcotic drugs

Organization of departmental sub-committees

The last-named activity resulted in the formation of 22 sub-committees located in the departmental capitals and in certain major cities. The over-all organization of the National Committee is the responsibility of a Co-ordinator-General, this function being discharged by the Chief of the National Police Technical Laboratory.

Those involved in the various areas of activity are:

Priests

Doctors

Psychiatrists

Lawyers

Chemists

Police laboratory technicians

Sociologists

Teachers

Journalists

Writers

Housewives

* The original of this article is in Spanish.

AIMS OF THE COMMITTEE

The Committee's work programme has the following aims:

  1. To preserve young people from the evil of drugs;

  2. To guide them, through education, towards a constructive existence and to train youth leaders who can channel the energies of the young into sport, study and, in general, into attainments of benefit to them as individuals and therefore to society as well;

  3. To conduct family guidance programmes, the family being regarded as fundamental to the solution of the drug problem.

PROGRAMME CONTENT

Prevention based on education and punishment.

The information campaign has been organized on two levels:

  1. For young people who are victims or possible victims.

  2. For parents and teachers, who can act first in solving the problem.

INFORMATION CAMPAIGN

As from the start of the programme, educational talks were organized as part of the Committee's prevention activities, dealing with the drug question from the legal, medical and sociological points of view. By December 1970, 132 talks had been given at various places throughout the country. Between January and 31 August 1971, 24 talks were given, attended by 3,781 persons.

These talks emphasize:

  1. The responsibility of parents;

  2. Certain physical symptoms of drug-taking in young people;

  3. The responsibility of teachers in instructing young people and in helping to guide parents.

The talks are accompanied by slides and short films. In addition, publicity material containing scientific information is distributed, and a travelling exhibition has visited the principal cities throughout the country.

PROGRAMME OF SUPERVISION OF ADDICTS AND POTENTIAL ADDICTS, BEGUN IN 1971

  1. Convocation by telephone.

  2. Convocation by letter, stipulating a date and time for interview and a discussion of the individual's problem.

  3. Convocation of parents.

  4. Home visits

  5. Verification of school attendance and academic record.

  6. Recommendation for psychiatric treatment (the Committee does not have its own psychiatric service).

  7. In serious cases, admission to a psychiatric hospital.

  8. Some cases are dealt with by the National Police through its own services.

  9. At parents' request, admission to a private clinic.

THE COMMUNITY AS AN AGENT IN DRUG ABUSE CONTROL

The community collaborates with the Committee and the departmental sub-committees through assistance from the following:

  1. Professionals who give their services in local clinics and hospitals.

  2. The principal civil, military and religious authorities represented on the sub-committees.

  3. Agricultural extension workers.

  4. Nurses.

So far, this assistance has been limited, but it will increase as the programme expands.

THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM

Details obtained from persons arrested by officers collaborating in the programme have provided us with information about some aspects of the drug consumption problem in El Salvador. From the beginning of the programme until February of this year we obtained various interesting statistics which we shall present as the first stage of this study; from February to 31 August 1971 we undertook a further investigation, which we shall describe as a second stage.

DATA OBTAINED AT THE FIRST STAGE

Statistical data

Between 1 August 1970 and 8 February 1971, a study was made of 163 cases of young people arrested by narcotics officers either while taking drugs, in sizeable groups, or after having acquired marijuana cigarettes.

These 163 cases can be broken down as follows according to the activity involved: consumption 126; sale 26; no particulars 11.

Distribution of consumers by age

Age

Number

Percentage

13 years 1 0.80
14 years 4 3.20
15 years 8 6.30
16 years 9 7.20
17 years 14 11.10
18 years 17 13.50
19 years 16 12.70
20 years 11 8.60
21 years 14 11.10
22 years 5 3.95
23 years 5 3.95
24 years 3 2.40
25 years 6 4.80
26-30 years
9 7.20
31 years and over
4 3.20
TOTAL
126 100.00

Distribution of sellers by age

Age

Number

Percentage

18-22 years
6 23.20
23-28 years
13 49.85
29-37 years
7 26.95
TOTAL
26 100.00

Distribution by sex

 

Number

Percentage

Male
153 92.6
Female
10 7.4
TOTAL
163 100.00

Educational level of consumers

Type of study

Number

Percentage

Primary
23 18
Basic plan
37 30
Secondary
30 23
Commercial
17 14
University
19 15
TOTAL
126 100

Educational level of sellers

Type of study

Number

Percentage

Primary
11 41
Basic plan
5 19
Secondary
2 8
Commercial
4 16
Illiterate
1 4
Dental mechanic
1 4
No particulars
2 8
TOTAL
26 100

Occupations of persons arrested

 

Number

Percentage

Manual
38 23.3
Non-manual :
   
Students
77  
Teachers
2  
University staff
2 67.4
Employees
17  
Traders
9  
Musicians
3  
Uncertain
8 9.3
No particulars
7  
TOTAL
163 100.0

The manual category includes unskilled workers, labourers and domestic servants.

An additional item of basic data in connexion with drug addiction is civil status.

Civil status

 

Number

Unmarried
133
Unmarried but cohabiting
18
Married .
9
No particulars
9
TOTAL
163

Since family circumstances are a governing factor in drug abuse, data were collected on the following:

Civil status of parents

 

Number

Percentage

Married couples
66 40.5
Unmarried couples
46 28.2
Divorced
12 7.5
Widowed
10 6.1
No particulars
29 17.7
TOTAL
163 100.0

The figures for married and unmarried couples were selected as a means of establishing the degree of family integration and thus the kind of homes from which drug addicts came. Of the resulting total of 112 families, 46 per cent represent homes having both father and mother, i.e. integrated homes, and 46 per cent are homes lacking either the father or the mother. No particulars were available in the case of the remaining 8 per cent.

Type of educational establishment attended

 

Number

Percentage

Private religious
24 14.7
Private secular
41 25.0
Public
38 23.5
University
13 8.0
Studied abroad
13 8.0
No particulars
34 20.8
TOTAL
163 100.0

In view of the numbers of those studying at private establishments and universities, the figures for these classes are now presented separately, since their members are in reasonably well-off or affluent circumstances and can afford the cost of drugs.

 

Number

Percentage

Private religious
24 14.7
Private secular
41 25.0
University
13 8.0
Studied abroad
13 8.0
TOTAL
91 55.7

Kinds of drug consumed a

Cannabis
160
Hallucinogens (LSD)
24
Stimulants
8
Hypnotics
3
Liquids (thinners)
3

aThese drug consumers started with cannabis

Duration of drug abuse

Under 1 month
1
1-6 months
13
7 months to 1 year
33
1-5 years
18
5-8 years
4
No particulars
94
TOTAL
163

With regard to nationality, 143 of the offenders are Salvadorians, 11 are nationals of other countries and nine gave no particulars.

As far as travel of the offenders is concerned, 77 of the 143 Salvadorians had been out of the country to the United States, Chile, Mexico, Spain and Central European countries, for family reasons, tourism or and some began taking drugs in those countries.

DATA OBTAINED AT THE SECOND STAGE

Distribution by age

Age

Number

11-15 years
14
16-18 years
23
19-21 years
55
22-24 years
20
25-30 years
23
31 years and over
1
TOTAL
146

A Comparison of these figures with those for the first [?] shows a concentration in adolescence once again [?] and a drop from 13 to 11 years at the lower end of the [?] the drug responsible for this being thinners.

A study of the cases concerned shows that the offenders [?] 11 and 15 years of age are youngsters from [?] villages who have left home for the capital city [?] of adventure, and in some cases employment. [?] case relates to a youth of 21, an employee, who [?] drainers for three months; he was not arrested, but [?] sought help from the Committee's welfare treatment because his health had deteriorated badly. [?] complained of insomnia, lack of appetite, euphoria [?] with depression and a feeling of excessive. The National Police doctor treated him immediately [?] improved his condition. He subsequently returned work.

There is also a noticeable change in the drugs consumed, drawn by the following table:

Kinds of drug consumed

Drugs

Number

Marijuana.
100
LSD
15
Marijuana and LSD
2
Marijuana and tablets
4
Marijuana and alcohol
2
Codeine and heroin traces
1
Marijuana, tablets and alcohol
1
Thinners
9
Marijuana and thinners
1
No particulars
11
TOTAL
146

The figure relating to LSD consumption should be used with caution, since many offenders who underwent phychiatric consultation after the first interview then submitted to taking LSD.

A comparison between these data and those for the first stage also reveals the appearance in drug consumption of the habit of mixing drugs to increase their effect; thus we have combinations of marijuana and LSD; marijuana and tablets; marijuana and alcohol; marijuana, tablets and alcohol; and marijuana and thinners (" chemical roulette ").

Some interesting particulars were obtained in the interviews with these offenders. One young female offender, for example, at her medical consultation with the police doctor, stated that she began with marijuana (cigars); but this did not fully meet her expectations and her "friends" recommended her to take LSD to achieve the desired effect; she then took seven "trips" in eight weeks and said that she had achieved her objective (the case concerns a university student aged 20).

In some cases where a mixture of marijuana and alcohol had been used, the explanations are different: some offenders stated that they acquired a taste for alcohol when quite young and took to marijuana in order to rid themselves of the habit.

Every one of the offenders interviewed had an "excuse" to justify the consumption of one or more drugs which indicates that these young people have their own mysticism.

CLASSIFICATION OF ADDICTS

We found that the course followed by the addicts enabled us to divide them into two groups: the first consists of young people who take marijuana and other drugs to imitate others or "out of curiosity" as to its effects, in some cases alone and in other cases in groups, in the street or during festivals (for example, philosophical or religious gatherings).

The second group consists of mystical individuals who gather in cellars or other ad hoc meeting-places which they decorate with biblical pictures, exotic paintings dealing with love, sex, peace or abstract ideas, and so forth.

The reasons advanced by these individuals vary from "curiosity" to "religious reasons ", "for scientific purposes ", "exotic practices in sexual relations ", etc.

By classifying education levels, we obtained more objective data:

Educational level

 

Number

Percentage

Illiterate
4 2.5
Primary, complete or incomplete
26 18.0
Secondary
75 51.5
Higher studies
10 7.0
University
27 18.5
No particulars
4 2.5
TOTAL
146 100.0

The 75 cases of secondary pupils included 20 per cent of drop-outs, adolescents who had left school a few months after the beginning of the academic year. These devoted their time wholly or largely to drug-taking and lost interest in any studies.

Asked why they had left school they replied: that they had lost any interest in study, that they were disappointed because their work was going badly, or that study was not their vocation, etc.

Many parents, when asked why they had allowed their children to leave school without good reason, replied: " I don't know what to do, he takes no notice of me ", or " I'm tired of fighting with him ".

Many parents who viewed this conduct with indifference at the beginning tried to control it later, when they realized the serious consequences to which it was leading; but in the majority of cases they were unsuccessful.

Of the 26 primary school pupils, five were dropouts and of the 27 university students two were dropouts.

It is therefore clear that so far, secondary education is the most seriously affected, but that primary schools (12 years or younger) are also becoming prey to this evil.

At universities, the level of consumption is high in the initial years (unspecialized courses), but drop-out cases are rare.

Occupations

 
Numbers
Manual
25
Non-manual
 
Traders
6
Students
57
Student workers
4
Employees
l0
Musicians
7
Teachers
3
Writer (female)
l
Pilot
1
Conjurer
1
Under-employed
4
None
25
No reply
2
TOTAL
146

The above occupational classification shows that the student population is the most heavily affected; this phenomenon is not confined to El Salvador, since statistics from other countries reveal the same situation. In relative terms, 42 per cent of addicts are students and the remaining 58 per cent are engaged in other activities or have no activity (including academic drop-outs).

In the first stage of the study we obtained data on offenders' places of residence, which were found to be the capital city and a few of the country's major towns.

Place of residence

Capital city
98
Other towns
27
Foreigners in transit
21

How has drug abuse spread to places remote from the capital? The first explanation is to be found among the reasons given by offenders: their wish to return to rural life, where they can find the peace and affection denied to them in the city; their desire to share in the cultivation of the soil with their fellow agricultural workers; etc. Ideas of this kind have led a number of them to move to the country. A further explanation is that El Salvador is small (22,000 km 2) and has good communications.

Distribution by sex

The proportion of female addicts increased slightly between the two stages:

Male
132
90 %
Female
14
10 %

The data reviewed in the first stage of the study showed the proportion of female addicts at 7.4 per cent. We now have an increase of 2.6 per cent. We conclude that females receive special protective treatment when discovered by the police.

INTERVIEWS WITH PARENTS

We have interviewed a number of parents whose children had not been involved with the drug-prevention authorities, from the standpoint of parent-child relationships, in order to see whether there was any justification for the excuse advanced by offenders that " my parents don't understand me ". Of 12 parents interviewed, two admitted that their relations with their children were bad and the rest said that they were extremely good. However, further discussion on the subject revealed the existence of two different kinds of understanding: the adolescent interprets discipline, his parents' wishes for his future and their ideas about his " tastes and ways of amusing himself ", as a complete rejection of everything that young people do, as misunderstanding by the " old ", as an abyss between generations; while the parents feel frustrated and helpless with regard to their children. It would seem that many parents who claim to have extremely good relations with their children are not fulfilling their duties as parents, because of ignorance, or because of work or other circumstances; but that they deny or refuse to admit this, for obvious reasons. Furthermore, today's parents did not have the opportunities available to the present young generation for broadening their education at home, at school and through the many forms of modern communication accessible to them at all educational levels. These interviews enabled us to make some assessment of the Committee's work. We found a gratifying response, which, we feel, compels us to find means for improving the services we offer to those who seek our help. All the parents interviewed expressed confidence in the Committee's work and some considered it a vital source of immediate assistance in the event of domestic or family problems.

GUIDANCE

In 1971, the Committee was approached by parents seeking guidance in dealing with children who had fallen prey to drugs. These adolescents had not been arrested; their parents were trying to avoid this outcome and at the same time wished to give them the necessary help and care, and so approached the Committee's welfare service.

In connexion with this programme, mention should be made of continual requests by teachers and pupils for information on various aspects of the drug problem. They are supplied with literature, shown various natural and synthetic drugs, and offered every assistance which the staff of the technical laboratory of the National Police is in a position to render. At the present stage of the Committee's work, the guidance service is the most active of all, since at present we have no detention centre.

FOLLOW-UP

Further assistance which the Committee offers to parents is supervision after the arrest and release of adolescent offenders. In order to keep these offenders under supervision, since our financial and human resources are slender, this control is effected as follows:

  1. When the child is returned to the father's custody, the latter undertakes to strengthen his care and authority, and to bring the child at frequent intervals to the police laboratory for control purposes.

  2. The individual concerned may be summoned by letter, without warning, to attend the Committee's welfare service; it is thus possible to ascertain whether the adolescent has left his group of drug consumers, whether he has stopped taking drugs, whether he is diligent in his work, whether he is studying, and so forth.

ESTABLISHMENT OF A PILOT PROGRAMME IN EL SALVADOR

We have given full information on the organization of the Committee and on the work it has undertaken so far. Its activities can be summarized as follows:

I.( a) Organization of the Committee.

  1. Establishment of its programme.

  2. Organization of 22 sub-committees throughout the country under the control of the National Committee.

The agents taken into account in planning assistance for young addicts are the family, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, priests and friends.

II. Implementation of work plans

  1. National information campaign:

    Leaflets providing information on drug risks;

    Films;

    Lectures and talks for young people, parents and teachers.

  2. Social study of cases:

    Interviews with young offenders after arrest;

    Interviews with parents;

    Enquiries into cases of young offenders;

    Welfare assistance to offenders' families.

  3. Medical aspects:

    Referal of cases to a psychiatrist;

    Referal of cases to a psychiatric hospital;

    Referal of cases to private clinics.

III. Prospects

The Committee was recently accorded legal personality, through official approval of its statutes.

A consultation service will begin shortly, as a prelude to the creation of a drug-addiction treatment centre which it is hoped to set up with help from the Government, private firms and international organizations.

The Committee favours a change in the law concerning offences against health, which, it maintains, should differentiate between persons concerned in the encouragement of drug abuse and consumers. The law establishes a single penalty of eight years' imprisonment for traffickers, distributors, growers, consumers and persons merely possessing drugs. It is hoped to render punishments commensurate with the degree of offence; to introduce improved methods of control by bodies responsible for authorizing the sale and distribution of drugs; to adopt measures to ensure strict compliance with international drug control obligations; and to take all possible steps to confine drug sale to pharmacists, on medical prescription.

Marijuana cases investigated

Year

Consumers

Sellers

Growers

1967
5 4 1
1968 17 6 3
1969 17 14 7
TOTAL
39 24 11

Pipes used by Salvadorian who take marijuana

Full size image: 47 kB, Pipes used by Salvadorian who take marijuana

Theoretical and practical instruction on general aspects of drug abuse is given to teachers and nurses

Full size image: 37 kB, Theoretical and practical instruction on general aspects of drug abuse is given to teachers and nurses

Exhibitions illustrating the dangers of drug abuse are organized at international fairs and local festivals

Full size image: 82 kB, Exhibitions illustrating the dangers of drug abuse are organized at international fairs and local festivalsw