(Photo: Flickr/Acid Pix)

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Over the last few months, the local government in Bilbao, Spain, have been distributing cocaine crushing cards to habitual drug users in the local community. Blood pressure rising yet? How about if we told you the cards were emblazoned with “Pica bien tu raya” (chop up your line nice and fine), and “Rula sólo con tu rulo” (don’t share the straw you use for snorting drugs). Knuckles whitening?

This cocaine crushing card was issued to cocaine users in Bilbao advising them of health risks. (Photo: El Correo)
This cocaine crushing card was issued to cocaine users in Bilbao advising them of health risks. (Photo: El Correo)

We can see this bold approach might raise some challenging questions. Like. WTF? Or. Have you taken leave of your senses? But before we dust-off the pitchfork and grab an oil soaked torch, let’s hear them out.

The credit card is the standard go-to for cocaine users. Ideally suited, both for chopping cocaine into a fine powder, and for withdrawing money from ATM’s to pay for aforementioned cocaine. After those details are ironed out you can snort merrily away. For the more learned this method of ingestion is referred to as nasal insufflation.

So why snort cocaine in the first place? Snorting means cocaine goes straight into the blood stream via the mucous membrane. Once in the blood stream it high tails it for the the brain like a Cruise missile. And bingo, a melt-in-the-brain cocaine high.

However, it’s dangerous, obviously, but really fatally dangerous. Because once the cocaine has been chopped up it’s common to use a bank note or a straw to aid the snorting. When bank notes and straws are shared among users then the risk of being infected with Hepatitis C via contaminated blood is a real risk.

Now, 70-80% of people don’t show any symptoms of Hep C. In fact you could be infected for years and not know. It’s also possible to show symptoms after just a few months. More important is the fact that 75-85% of people who contract Hep C will develop a chronic illness. Cirrhosis, liver cancer and chronic liver disease are all waiting patiently in the wings. A bit nuts running that risk all because you shared a straw with Brad from Marketing at the Catalina Wine Mixer. Fuck you Brad.

It’s not just Hepatitis C lurking in the shadows. Remember the mucous membrane? Well, it’s real job is to act as a filter and to protect against nasty bugs and infections. Short term abuse will lead to runny noses, bleeding and sneezing. Long term, you could be looking at the complete collapse of your septum, and no one wants that. Unless you’re really wanting to face-morph into something resembling the Grinch.

Do enough coke and you'll maybe develop a sideline as a Grinch impressionist. (Photo: Max Pixel)
Do enough coke and you’ll maybe develop a sideline as a Grinch impressionist. (Photo: Max Pixel)

Some real health issues then, and let’s face it, plenty of people are still doing coke despite these risks and will continue to take it irrespective of the dangers.

Which kind of leads us back to the Health Department of Bilbao City Council. They care. Moreover, they care about local Bilbaíno’s who use cocaine but may not be aware of all the risks.

Hence the snappy marketing, and distribution of cocaine crushing cards as educational material, that could maybe make a difference to someone.

But this scheme has not gone down well in some quarters, and the council alongside city health chief, Yolanda Díez, have come under a withering barrage of criticism. Díez, a socialist councilor stated, “Our goal is not to encourage drug use, but if people are going to use drugs, it should at least be done safely”.

Yolanda Díaz, Health Chief for Bilbao Council. (Photo: Wikimedia/Partido Comunista de España)
Yolanda Díaz, Health Chief for Bilbao Council. (Photo: Wikimedia/Partido Comunista de España)

Conservative politician Luis Eguiluz, from the Popular Party has led the criticism pointing out, “It’s completely nonsensical to hand out something that looks like a consumption kit”.

A health department spokesman emphasized that the cocaine crushing cards were selectively distributed and not intended to glamorize drug taking. Nevertheless, the campaign has been halted, with Yolanda Díez and her colleagues finding themselves being ushered quietly back to the drawing board.

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