Rio's Cracklands: Addiction Struggles Loom On The Streets Near Olympic Stadium

By John Lavitt 07/25/16

Rio officials are so focused on dealing with polluted water and flesh-eating bacteria that drug dealers and addicts using on the streets near the stadium have been ignored.

Rio's Cracklands: Addiction Struggles Loom On The Streets Near Olympic Stadium
Photo via YouTube/USA Today Sports

Long before Brazil lights the fabled Olympic torch, a burning crack pipe might come to symbolize the seemingly cursed 2016 worldwide competition. In Rio de Janeiro, the main Olympic Stadium where the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Games will take place on August 5, is walking distance from what is known as the "Cracolândia" of the downtrodden city. In this hopeless, destitute neighborhood, drugs addicts and prostitutes do anything they can to get their next rock of crack and escape from their misery in the white smoke of addiction.

The crackheads of Rio are quite excited about the Olympics. As one local said to USA Today, “The Olympics? I’m happy it is coming. More money for everyone.” Such a huge international event equals an influx of wealthy tourists who will leave their trash all over the city. They will drink beer, water and sodas, leaving empty bottles and cans for the desperate to collect and redeem cash at a recycling center. The money will then be used to buy more drugs.

When it comes to crack consumption, a 2012 survey by the University of São Paulo found that Brazil was second only to the United States. With 5,000 miles of borders shared with Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, the world’s three biggest cocaine producers, cocaine flows into Brazil, maintaining a large population of drug abusers and drug gangs. Brazil does little to prevent the flow.

Although the sale, transportation and cultivation of cocaine in Brazil are illegal, drug consumption was decriminalized in 2006. As a result, every other criminal aspect of the cocaine trade became easier and even more tolerated. There is every reason why the world should be worried about what might happen in Rio during the Olympic Games. 

Most countries that have held the Olympic Games try to clean up the host city, removing the dangerous and the desperate from the eyes of the world. In Rio, they are so focused on trying to deal with polluted waterways filled with flesh-eating bacteria and rampant air pollution ahead of the Games, that little things like dealers dealing and drugs addicts using in the streets near the Olympic Stadium have been ignored. As Celio Ricardo, a former addict, explains to USA Today, “The authorities sometimes pick the addicts from the street and put them into shelters, but addicts escape and go back to the Cracklands. The government cannot do much to hide them or keep them away.”

The Cracklands are an anonymous place where people go to slip away from society. People disappear from here all the time, never to be seen or heard from again. Maybe they fixed their habit and got help. “In most cases, probably not,” Ricardo sadly recalls from his own experience. Will the eyes of the world make a difference? The addicts believe foreigners will come here during the Olympics to smoke crack, a man named Joao told USA Today. After all, that’s what happened during the World Cup, he said. Will it take a tourist tragedy before the government actually tries to clean up Rio's Cracklands—a hop, skip, and a jump from its glorious Olympic Stadium?

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.