A toxic and highly addictive mixture of raw cocaine base cut with chemicals, glue, crushed glass and rat poison, paco is the curse of Argentina's urban poor. And consumption of this bastardised, low-grade drug is eating away at the vitality and hope of the most deprived neighbourhood areas of the capital.
Essentially a chemical waste product, paco is what remains from the narco-kitchens producing cocaine bound for US and European markets. Since its appearance on the streets of Buenos Aires in the late 1990s, the drug has taken a deadly grip in slums such as Itatí. Levels of addiction rose by more than 200% in the first part of the decade and more than 400,000 doses are now being consumed daily.
Users are witheringly referred to as the muertos vivientes – the living dead – of Buenos Aires. Addictive after one or two hits, the drug systematically destroys the nervous system. Users quickly become skeletal and ravaged, resorting to crime, violence and prostitution to feed their habits. Enormous numbers die in short order.
Villa Itatí runs on paco: an economy that is an endless, grim cycle of illicit profit, addiction-fuelled crime and wasted lives, all witnessed by a despairing generation of parents.
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