Spain’s drug consumption on the rise, despite authorities’ struggle

Spanish police recently seized over a tonne of cocaine. But despite the authorities’ struggle, the country’s demand for recreational drugs remains the highest in Europe.

Barcelona is known for its reputation as a European party capital and a city that is at the heart of Spain's drug culture. Visiting one of its clubs on Friday one can see that there is more than just drinking going on.

You can get anything here. Coke, marijuana…” says one of Barcelona’s clubbers. “In Spain all drugs are available.”

Most of my friends don't take a lot of drugs. Well, maybe some do. But most don't. It's your own responsibility to monitor your mental and physical health. But here you can find any drugs you desire,” another clubber echoes the sentiment.

This is not just anecdotal evidence. Even the air is sweet in Barcelona, and according to one recent study, that may just be because it contains detectable amounts of cocaine. While that is not enough to become high, it is emblematic of Spain's drug problem.

Spanish researchers say that although their study does not directly indicate consumption, it is the white powder that is of greatest concern. Spaniards are the biggest consumers of cocaine on the entire European continent. It is estimated that one in twenty young people has taken it in the past year.

What scares me is not just the level of drug consumption, but the fact that the age at which people first try drugs has been falling year after year,” says Dr. Josep Fabregas at the Center for Addiction Research and Treatment.

Fernando is among those who have tried cocaine at a young age and become addicted. He is also among the 80,000 people undergoing rehab in Spain at any one time.

“Spain is a country of parties, and for three years, I just took coke at the weekends. Then I started doing it on weekdays,” says Fernando. “By the end, I would take it at football matches and after lunch. I've spent 15,000 euros on coke.

Spanish police make hundreds of seizures every year. Country’s geographical location and cultural affinity with South America make it a natural entry point for cocaine from that continent.

The fact that Spain has one of the world's most permissive drug policies, which decriminalized the possession of even hard drugs, probably exacerbates the situation.

If you are consuming any drugs in private, you are not breaking any law. And then if you are caught taking drugs in public places, this is an administrative, not a criminal offence,” says Rafael Jimenez, spokesperson for the National Police.

But whatever it is caused by – availability, policy or even social attitudes – drug consumption shows no signs of slowing in Spain.