Solvent abuse a growing problem for Mexico City's down-and-out

In Mexico, a growing problem of solvent abuse among the capital's poorest residents has the government concerned. But not, it appears, the wider society. CGTN's Alasdair Baverstock reports.

It’s a hard-knock life for the down-and-out of the Mexico City. As many as thirty-thousand homeless people live on the streets of the capital, where an insidious substance is accelerating the vicious downward spiral.

It’s a solvent known colloquially as ‘La Mona’, Spanish for ‘The Monkey.’

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Georgina Garbona is part of the boots-on-the-ground effort to tackle the growing solvent-abuse problem, and spoke to CGTN about her work and the issues the people she works to help face.

“The ‘mona’ is attractive to those who consume it because it is very cheap,” she told CGTN in the homeless shelter where many of her charges now sleep, away from the hard streets of the capital. “But it also staves off both hunger and the cold, all problems faced by the homeless community.”

Georgina estimates that more than 90 percent of the capital’s homeless population, today consume ‘La Mona’ on a daily basis

Simple paint thinner, La Mona is widely consumed throughout Mexico City’s homeless communities. Bought for a few cents in the capital’s hardware stores. Its users are recognizable as they inhale through their clenched fists, in which they clutch rags which they have soaked in the solvent.

Forty-two-year-old Fabian Gomez was a longtime homeless user of the solvent.

“I took the Mona in order to have friends. Everyone else took it, and I was homeless since the age of six, so it was lonely,” he said. “For many of my friends it made them violent, and want to go out and rob people. I got involved in that too, it was a dark period in my life, which led me to other drugs.”

Fabian now lives in the state-run shelter for disabled homeless people, after a car accident saw him run over while cleaning windscreens at traffic lights for spare change.

Half a liter of the ‘mona’ substance costs just 50 cents, and is available on hardware stores throughout the city.

Yet some shopkeepers in the capital, like Raul Gonzalez, refuse to sell the substance if they believe it will be used nefariously.

“The problem is with the kids, if you sell it to them, you are complicit in them beginning to use drugs, and in doing that you don’t just hurt the person, but the entire society”, he told CGTN.

Yet Mexico City’s government says it is determined to help those affected by solvent abuse through a wider effort at inclusion.

“Homeless people can be made to feel completely invisible by the rest of society, and that seriously damages their chances”, said Alejandro Tinoco, the sub-director of Mexico City’s addiction public health body.

“If we can encourage people here to look more sympathetically at these people, then we will be on the right track to eradicating this problem.”

‘La Mona’ continues to ravage the capital’s poorest communities, as those battling the problem fight to keep the monkey off the backs of the next generation.