SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Wrapped in a Persian rug caked in dirt, a man addicted to crack cocaine listened as Elizeu Dias tried to persuade him to take the last spot available in an old Volkswagen van that is taking addicts to drug treatment.
“When I hug them, they’re shocked,” says Dias, 37, a former addict who is working with the Catholic Belém Mission.
“Most people don’t want to hug someone who has been living on the streets, but when you’re a recovering addict, you’ve been there,” Dias says.
Cheap and easy to come by, crack has become a plague to a country that has been envied by other South American nations for its stable economy and job creation. President Dilma Rousseff committed $2 billion to drug prevention and treatment in 2011 but the Cracolândias, or cracklands as the open air drug markets are called, have grown still.
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Originally published February 27, 2013, in USA Today.