Last night in Razzmatazz, a drug story.

It was Saturday night in Spain, but not any Saturday night, it was Saturday 7th of March of 2020. You had had a kind of premonitory dream: a horrible pandemic was spreading the world as fast as light and the Spanish government was going to decree a general lock down during the next 3 months. But that’s not everything, all the bars, clubs and discos would be closed until a vaccine for that pandemic is ready .

And there were you, in the middle of Razzmatazz, one of the biggest discos in Barcelona, having an amazing night and enjoying as much as possible just in case this was the last one in a long time. And suddenly, you thought: “If this is the last one, maybe I should do something extreme, something that I have never dared to do... I’ll take drugs!”.

Fortunately, you were in Razz with your great friend André. André is a portuguese guy who studied data analytics some months ago and did a huge research about drugs usage. So, you decided to ask him about your amazing idea. This is what he told you.

Oh, my dear friend. I understand your curiosity, it is not bad to have curiosity. But if you want to take drugs, you need to do it consciously, with all the information and knowing the risks you are assuming. Look, in my country, the consumption is decriminalised for all drugs since 2001 and we are doing very well! Let me show you some facts:

Obviously the first risk that come to your mind is the overdose. If you take drugs you can die because of an overdose, but also because of a derived problem caused by some of the drug effect. Many people in the world commit suicide due to the mental problems caused by drugs, or they die for the AIDS they develop since they were infected of HIV when taking drugs. Globally, more people die because of problems derived from drugs than for overdose. There is interesting data about that, divided by countries (fig. 1).

But OK, I understand that, as a first time, you are more worried about the overdose risks. In that case, my advice would be (obviously) go for Cocaine or MDMA. Every year people die 10 more times for a heroin overdose than for cocaine or MDMA overdose (fig. 2). I guess you are not surprised for that and we are lucky, if there is something we can find here tonight are those two drugs!

Anyway, let’s be careful, there are some countries that present high levels of deaths by overdose for MDMA or cocaine per habitant, such as USA or Russia (fig. 2).

“Come on André, this could be our last night, stop talking about deaths. ”

Yes, yes, you are right. I’m not talking about deaths anymore, but… what about addictions? Aren’t you afraid of getting addicted to drugs if you try them? In some countries more than the 3% of the people are addicted to some kind of drug, that’s too much dude! It is true that the overall mean is around 1% (fig. 3).

“Nah, this thing about addiction is more for poor countries, here in Spain we don’t get addicted easily. ”

Hummmm, I am not sure about that… look, there is a correlation between the addiction rates per country and the levels of income of those countries. The higher income level they have, the higher addiction rates they present (fig. 4). Of course, it is not a perfect correlation and there are many countries that don’t follow this trend, probably due to other factors I’m not explaining to you right now.

More interesting than the relationship between addiction and economic level is the different addiction rates between men and women. Do you know that women are much more less prone to get addicted than men? While around the 1% of the men in the world is addicted to some kind of drugs, women are the half, just 0.5% (fig. 5). Moreover, this trend is followed everywhere, there is not a single country in the world where women show higher rates of addiction to drugs than men.

Interestingly, not all the countries show the same differences between both gender addiction rates. This difference changes a lot depending on where we are looking at. The most extreme cases are Iran and Namibia. In Iran, man addiction is 5 times higher than woman addiction, while in Namibia men are just 1.2 times more addicted than women (fig. 5).

Probably you are wondering why men and women behave different in terms of drug addiction. Well, there are many different explanations. There are people that claim that male and female brains are quite different and that this difference make one of them become addicted more easily. In contrast, other ones say that the differences in this point is due to the sociocultural status that men and women have in all the countries. The inequalities that women suffer in comparison with men would influence also their tendency to take drugs. I don’t have the right answer, but there are some scientific studies that propose that probably there is a combination of this two factors.

Based on the idea that gender inequalities influence even the drug addiction rates, I compared the gender gap index for every country with their addiction rates. The gender gap index is a value that is assigned to every country based on several differences between men and women (like access to education, health or politics). The comparison shows that there is a correlation. The higher the gap between genders is, the higher addiction rate between men and women also is (fig. 6). But this correlation is not so robust, which could indicate that there are much more factors influencing this different addiction ratio per gender.

I see you had enough info about addiction and deaths. There are two thing that you would be interested in if you are considering taking drugs: the price and the purity.

The price may vary a lot depending on who sells you, how much quantity you buy, how pure it is or in which country you are. In general, MDMA tends to be cheaper than cocaine or heroin and north european countries tend to have higher prices (fig. 7).

Purity is really important. Take into account that this kind of market is not regulated. So you, as a consumer, do not have any protection in terms of quality. In general the dealers take profit of this and mix the drug with different compounds in order to have more quantity to sell. The problem is that, finally you never now which things you are introducing to you body and what effects they might have. Generally in life, it is not a good idea to take anything without knowing the source and the composition. In this case, I can tell you that heroin is the more frequently mixed drug with other components. Some countries like Germany or United Kingdom present the highest rates of drug purity (fig. 8).

And just to finish, one of the most surprising insight from my analysis was that there is no correlation between price and purity in any of the analyzed drugs (fig. 9).

Well my friend, I tell you all of this because I truly rely on the power of data. It is good that we make our own decision, but let’s make it with knowledge. It is completely fine if some decide to smoke tabacco or play the lottery but let’s have a look at data and risks first.

“I see André, but… what about Portugal? Is everyone taking drugs in the streets because of this different regulation you have? I did not see it in your plots.”

Good question, since Portugal decided in 2001 not to criminalize the drug usage and instead give support to those who need it our levels of overdoses, HIV infection and drug-related crime have decreased a lot and now we are one of the european countries with lower levels of addiction and overdose deaths (fig. 10).

So, what do you think now?

And that was everything for that night, the last night in Razz. The pandemic arrived, the lockdown became real and you did not go to any disco until 2021.

Did you take drugs that night? Who cares?

But hey, the vaccine came out, we went back to the discos, bars and clubs. Everything improved after that crazy year and we could dance all the Britney Spears’ hits again and again and again.

Thanks for reading!

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References and sources:

  1. “Opioids, cocaine, cannabis and illicit drugs”(2018). Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/illicit-drug-use
  2. “Statistical Bulletin 2020”. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction. https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/data/stats2020_en
  3. “The Global Gender Gap Report 2016”. World Economic Forum. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GGGR16/WEF_Global_Gender_Gap_Report_2016.pdf
  4. Becker JB, McClellan ML, Reed BG. Sex differences, gender and addiction. J Neurosci Res. 2017 Jan 2;95(1–2):136–147. doi: 10.1002/jnr.23963. PMID: 27870394; PMCID: PMC5120656. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/jnr.23963
  5. Global population estimation. https://www.gapminder.org/

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