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Not Apt for Human Consumption: a PG rated story

Lucia was only nine when she first tried out basic paste of cocaine (BPC) in the streets of Cochabamba; she felt uplifted, euphoric, nothing mattered anymore and she was totally uninhibited, a sense of great pleasure indeed, what a tricky way to begin her addiction, something she never thought of as being harmful until now.

She has lived in the streets for 8 years now and had a baby when she was fifteen. Their favorite place to sleep is Plaza Colón, a downtown square where many ‘Polillas’ (moths), as they call street kids who are in drugs, come hang around in the day or spend the night when tired enough.

When she arrived to Cochabamba, a populous city in the heart of Bolivia in South America, Lucia was a runaway girl who had taken a bus from El Alto one night. By pretending she was with a family, she went unnoticed. In her mind, all she wanted was to find her Cochabamba aunt. She found herself in the dawn of a new day, in a new city, with a new reality.

Her thin body, her long straight hair and her face burnt in the high plateau sun of La Paz, made her look like she was six then. Now, at 17, her appearance has not changed that much. She is still skinny and her face shows the signs of living in the streets, darkened by so much sun, with small scars. The roughness of her hands contrasts with the sound of her angelical voice and her radiant smile. She hardly looks 13, short as she is.

She is now willing to speak up, to have her story read, because she feels she is too young to be so deeply immersed in cocaine. She wants to let us know that it was not only her fault. In fact, she feels a lot of remorse but deep in her heart believes it was her only choice. How hopeless was she when she decided to run away? Her front teeth, all brownish and decadent, show up timidly when she answers: ‘I was totally alone, hopeless and full of fear because I had broken my stepmother’s big mirror’.

She never found her aunt. Instead, she run into a group of kids in El Prado, in downtown Cochabamba who showed her the way to ask for food from people in restaurants and assured her she would not be cold at night as they would sleep together under the bridge in Plaza Colon.

They shared thinner, paint and glue to inhale, not to feel the cold wind. They had a lot of fun that day and she ended up staying months in, months out, doing the same routine. The highlights were given by the BPC that older kids brought in from time to time. She liked the feeling of belonging to the group. She thought they could die for her. They are like family somehow.

When she lived with her father, many times he would come drunk and shout at everyone. She was in charge of babysitting her younger stepbrothers, hand washing their clothes and making breakfast. To do all that she would rise at five, but time was never enough. She was always tired and hungry so she would make mistakes and get spanked, many times brutally. The streets have not been very different, but at least there she was free to do what she wanted. Lucia says doping is her main problem. She wishes she never met BPC.

She makes the baby smell glue or paint when he can’t sleep, many times because he is hungry. Police always threatened to take the baby away from her, but she didn’t believe them. One day, she woke up and the baby was gone. She was in the police headquarters and was told that she needs to prove she can live without BPC if she wants to see the baby again. All her contriving would not pay off this time.

Lucia is one of the thousands of girl mothers in trouble, and her addiction to BPC is not only common within street girl children. Even between them she is a special case, as she doesn’t want to give up the baby. She is one of the 10,000 kids under 12 believed to be in drugs in Bolivia, according to Police releases in 2006. Too big a number for a small population of 10,000,000. Coca leaves have doubled in Bolivia, but they are still only 4% of the total world production. Colombia and Peru are the first worldwide producers of coca leaves, and cocaine. The price of Basic Paste of Cocaine keeps being low, as people who help making the drug usually steal BPC and sell it in the streets.

Basic paste of cocaine is untreated cocaine, extracted from coca leaves through a process of maceration and mixture with solvents. There are around 250 varieties of coca leaves. This is why the characteristics of the Basic paste of cocaine will vary depending on the amount of alkaloid that the coca leaves used have.

The fact that the basic paste of cocaine contains the alkaloid plus the solvents, which are toxic, makes it much more dangerous for the human body. IT IS NOT APT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION. When kids smoke this, an aggregate of tar, carbon monoxide and benzene among others, are also being inhaled.

It has different names along the continent. It has the aspect of a white or yellowish dust, depending on the substance with which it is developed, and the most common way of consumption is to smoke it in pipes or tin cans on top of ashes, as well as cigarettes mixed with tobacco or marihuana. They cost less than a pack of cigarettes in Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, La Paz and Tarija. Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay benefit with this low price also.

Coca leaves + (potassium carbonate + kerosene)= Coca Extract + (sulfuric acid) = Basic Paste of Cocaine (BPC) + (sulfuric acid + ammonia)= Washed paste or Cocaine Sulfate + (acetone or ether + hydrochloric acid + alcohol) = Cocaine hydrochloride + (sodium bicarbonate)= Free Base or Crack. (Taken from www. no te enganches con la lata. com). This elaboration process shows how harmful ingredients cocaine has, and where in the process chain BPC is located.

According to Carmen Ciganda in her article “Clinical Aspects of Basic Paste Consumption” released in 2004 by the IDES institute and the municipality of Montevideo, Uruguay, the following data has been compiled in the workshops for reducing the damage for users and former users of basic paste.

The effects of smoking BPC depend on multiple variables: the dose, the frequency of consumption, the rhythm of consumption, the body mass, the impurities, the ways of developing coca leaves into cocaine, and very importantly the motivation: stimulation, search of pleasure, antidepressant, between others.

When smoked, its effect is rapid and intense, with 5 to 20 seconds for the effect to appear and a few minutes to disappear. At the beginning it uplifts, gives pleasure and takes out hunger, fatigue and sleepiness, but it also gives the sensation of great persecution, great excitement, changes in the level of attention, and the person has the impression of being very alive.

Physical changes include heart acceleration, body temperature rise, air is taken out of the lungs, you feel agitated, fatigued with very little effort. Then comes a phase in which you feel down, hollow, anguished, depressed, sad and insecure. You are indifferent, nothing matters and you feel an unstoppable desire to keep smoking. Then you enter a stage in which you cannot stop smoking to avoid feeling down and hollow.

It is a very addictive substance because the initial sensation of excitement and wellbeing lasts a short time and it is followed rapidly by a dropdown feeling, an enormous distress that pushes you to keep smoking, one after another.

At the end comes craziness. You lose contact with reality. You have hallucinations that can be visual, tactile, in audition or olfactory. Psychosis can follow after many days or weeks of smoking one after another. You feel agitated, paranoid and aggressive.

During post toxic and abstinence processes, the person’s memory fails, there is fatigue, lack of attention, no interest in work or academic issues and antisocial behavior. You get thinner, pale and have tachycardia. There is lack of sleep, pupils dilate and you are nauseous. You vomit, your mouth is dry and you have cold sweats, diarrhea, trembling, fever, headaches and dizziness.

Dependence on BPC manifests itself with an irresistible desire for consumption of the drug. You feel the desire of progressively augment the frequency and number of cigarettes, with the objective of avoiding the dropdown you feel when the initial burst passes.

Lucia has gone through this many times. She remembers getting lost in BPC many times, but doesn’t remember, for instance, the first time she had sex. Or the last time she was kissed and loved by somebody. The only love she knows comes from the group of youngsters that became her family. The only happiness comes from BPC. She worries it could kill her, but is hopelessly attracted to it.

She has been in the hospital for two months now. She could not afford the health facilities in Cochabamba, and did not want to go back to La Paz. She chose Tarija for the step forward. The doctors helped her get here, to the INTRAID (Instituto Nacional de Tratamiento y Rehabilitación de Adicciones, Insanidad y Drogodependencia). The social worker here helped her with the paperwork to stay in the institution.

Has she decided to stay away from BCP? She clearly has. Will she succeed?. We shall see. Right now she hopes to do this right, so she can get her son back. She decided to live in Tarija, as she does not know any addicts here. She only hopes to get a job after leaving the hospital.

This glimpse of hope is possible for her because the doctors and social workers have had a big heart and understand how lonely she is. But the future is not bright yet. They don’t know if she will make it to the third month, as she keeps contriving to leave.

We must remember that one out of ten adolescents in drugs dies before 20, when addicted to BPC. This is a dangerous drug affecting a lot of families here in South America, but especially in coca leave growing countries like Bolivia.

Bolivian people use coca leaves as an ancient medicine, and coca tea is innocuous and good for the high altitude disease. But money makers from outside and in have managed to add devastating things to it and made it very harmful. The United Nations have recently recognized this fact, and have began the studies to take coca out of the list of prohibited crops.

The problem is that the sense of pleasure BCP and cocaine brings into people’s lives can easily fool them into thinking they won’t suffer the consequences. If you have not tried it, you are lucky. Stay that way.

Our girls, boys, families deserve to have the hope of growing up free from drugs, and although a lot of money is being put into convincing governments to legalize drugs, people of good will must tell the truth and stand up against drugs.

The best is not to consume, but if you smoke, do not share pipes, this way you avoid the transmission of diseases like hepatitis B and C through the mouth wounds of all kinds that you have in your lips. As you won’t feel hungry, try to feed yourself before smoking BPC, this way you will avoid getting weak, losing weight and losing defenses in your body. Pull yourself out and do safe sex, use a condom. Try to bathe constantly and keep living in YOUR PLACE, try not to change homes. This is advice from experts who got together to help you, listen to it to get by.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.


Maria Cuellar's picture

Lucia's story

Dear Jacqueline,

Wow, this is a very distressing story. It is very sad to see that crack-cocaine and glue inhalants have become such a common sight in street children (and grownups) around the world.
Thanks for putting this in such a tangible perspective by telling us about Lucia's story.
It was very touching.


jap21's picture

I know it is

Dear Maria,

It broke my heart to see her. I hope the world understands her reality through my writing. She is not in good health.

Thanks for the comment.


Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

Cweta's picture

Dear Jacqueline, Thank you

Dear Jacqueline,

Thank you for writing such a wonderful but sad yet truthful story. I hope you would write more on it. Looking forward to read your articles.

jap21's picture

I will try to do it

Thanks for reading it. The world needs to understand this reality exists, no matter how many times we look away, it is still there.

In loving friendship,


Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

olutosin's picture

Thanks for this!

Sad though true, tahnks for writing this piece JAP

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


jap21's picture

Yes Olotusin

It is very sad indeed. I wish to make people aware of the solitude of this girl.



Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America

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