Cocaine Safety Tip Cards Met With Backlash In Spain

By Keri Blakinger 09/21/17

One city council health chief says the goal of distributing the cards was simply to reduce the risks of cocaine use. 

Young man who takes out blank business card from the pocket of his shirt

A Spanish city’s decision to distribute cocaine safety tip harm reduction kits is sparking some major blowback. 

City health officials of Bilbao, a northern port city of just under 350,000, doled out plastic cards with coke safety tips during the week-long Semana Grande festival. Emblazoned with the city council seal, the card mimics the credit cards and ID cards popularly used as drug-grinding devices. 

“Cut your line well,” the cards read. “If it is not well cut, you could damage your nostrils.”

The conservative-leaning Popular Party soundly condemned the action, calling it “real nonsense to hand out a kind of consumption ‘kit’ with such a flippant and frivolous message,” according to AFP wire service.

Yolanda Diez, the city council's health chief, said the goal was simply to reduce the risks of cocaine use. 

It’s not uncommon to see drug-testing stands at Basque Country music festivals, according to El Confidencial, a Spanish newspaper. But the coke-grinding cards are a new step—though the government clarified that they weren’t handed out willy-nilly to the general public. 

Instead, prospective card recipients needed to pass “three filters.” They needed to show interest, want to reduce drug use risks and pass an interview. 

“We didn’t hand them out to just anyone,” a city spokesman said. The idea is that more finely ground drugs are less likely to cause the nasal bleeding that can be associated with potential transmission of hepatitis C, according to Talking Drugs. Disease transmission can also be avoided by not sharing straws with other users. 

Only around 100 cards and leaflets were handed out in the recent round of distribution during the annual festivities. 

Moving forward, the city council plans to study the results of the card-distribution pilot program and figure out whether to continue such efforts in the future. 

Spain has the second-highest rate of cocaine use in Europe, topped only by Britain, according to a 2017 drug report. 

The finding included the latest figures compiled for 2015, when 9.1% of Spaniards between the ages of 15 and 64 had used cocaine at some point in their lifetime. Britain barely bested that number with a 9.7% lifetime usage rate.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.