Emerging patterns of crack use in Mexico City

Avelardo Valdez, Charles Kaplan, Kathryn M. Nowotny, Guillermina Natera-Rey, Alice Cepeda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: Recent studies in Mexico have documented a significant increase in crack cocaine use, indicating the potential for an emerging drug epidemic. Methods: Ethnographic observations and interviews were used describe the profiles and patterns of use among street-recruited crack users in Mexico City. The data came from an international research collaboration funded by the National Institutes of Health. Results: A polythetic typology was developed based on five dimensions central to categorizing patterns of crack use behavior: frequency of use, duration of use, context, social networks, and social contracts. Four types of users were discovered applying these dimensions: dabblers, stable users, crack heads, and old heads. Although several similarities were documented between patterns of crack use in Mexico and those in the United States and Western Europe, several key aspects distinguished crack users in this population: (1) self-regulated use; (2) non-linear progression of crack; and (3) the influence of the dimensions pertaining to setting, social networks, and social contract as contributing to understanding of the previous two. Further, we provide a discussion of how specific contextual factors in Mexico may be giving rise to these emerging patterns. Conclusion: Compared to the U.S. and Europe, this study finds that the majority of crack users were able to self-regulate their use without major disruption to daily social functioning. As crack use spreads in Mexico and other Latin American countries, we need to recognize the importance of social context in developing more tailored health and social responses that are specific to these developing countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-745
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Crack use
  • Marginalization
  • Mexico
  • Self-regulation
  • Social context

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Policy


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