Sao Paulo begins mandatory detention of crack addicts

BRAZIL - Brazil's economic capital Sao Paulo on Monday began mandatory detention of drug addicts for rehab, authorities said, amid rising worries over an epidemic of crack cocaine use.

Rio de Janeiro already detaining minors, but the new drug treatment programme in Sao Paulo, South America's largest city, targets adults, with 700 spots currently available. Health officials said they expect to increase that number to 1,100 next year.

Antonio Carlos Malheiros, children and youth coordinator at the Sao Paulo Justice Tribunal, made clear that the programme would be suspended if there are any violations of the inmates' human rights.

Addicts are being rounded up at the request of relatives or a team including police and a judge, according to officials, who guaranteed that the who said the inmates' rights would be fully respected.

Brazil, Latin America's dominant economic power, is the world's top consumer of crack, a cheap and highly addictive drug derived from cocaine.

There are about a million crack users in the country, according to a recent study by the Federal University of Sao Paulo.

A downtown Sao Paulo crack market known as Crackolandia was shut down in a wave of police raids a year ago. But dealers and users have been returning by the hundreds.

Brazil's congress is to vote in February on a bill that toughens penalties for drug trafficking and calls for forced treatment for crack addicts all over the country.