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Spanish Authorities Providing Free Cocaine-Crushing Cards

Authorities in the northern Spanish city of Bilbao are distributing cards for people to crush cocaine with prior to snorting, in a bid to reduce the potential harms of nasal drug use – including the spread of hepatitis C.

The plastic card is the same size and shape as an ordinary credit card, and is being distributed under a scheme devised by the Bilbao City Council’s health department. It includes a written warning for people who snort drugs: “if it is not well chopped, you can damage your nostrils”.

Health department officials have asserted that the move is necessary to “minimise the risks [of drug use]”, digital Spanish newspaper El Confidencial reports. They claim that the card is being provided to individuals in a “selective and personalised” manner, so that it would not appear that authorities were condoning drug use among the wider public.

Indeed, according to El Correo – a prominent Bilbao newspaper – the card is not being widely distributed to the public; rather, it is only available for adults who have passed through three “filters”. To receive the card, one must demonstrate interest by visiting a mobile harm reduction facility staffed by health professionals, request harm reduction information, and complete a “personal interview” about their drug use.

People who receive the card are also provided with harm reduction leaflets, including detail about how safer consumption methods are important to reduce the risk of getting hepatitis C from drug use. Scientific evidence indicates that hepatitis C can be transmitted by sharing a drug-snorting straw with someone who already has the disease.

The UK's Hepatitis C Trust has issued a warning on the subject:

“If you share a rolled up note or straw for snorting drugs you risk exposing yourself and others to hepatitis C. This is especially true if your nose is bleeding. Cocaine in particular is very alkaline and corrosive to the thin membranes in the nose. If even tiny drops of your blood – often too small to see – get onto the straw or note, it is quite possible that blood to blood contact may take place through the nasal membrane”.

Therefore, if people who snort cocaine remember to crush their drug as finely as possible before using it, it reduces the likelihood of nasal bleeding, and potential hepatitis C transmission.

Luisa Marquez of ENLACE, a Spain-based federation of organisations that advocates for the proliferation of harm reduction, told TalkingDrugs that this development was “respectful of human rights” because “we can’t stop people from using drugs, but we can prevent some harms.”

“We consider it very necessary to give this kind of information, especially to young people, in order to avoid bigger problems such as deaths and serious diseases,” Marquez added.

The Bilbao City Council has said that providing the card is part of a pilot scheme, and that it could be extended after the results of its implementation have been analysed.

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