Authorities say that homicides are rising in Maceio, the world's third most violent city, thanks to the spread of crack cocaine across Brazil.
According to an AFP report, murder rates in the coastal city are up 180 percent from 10 years ago, making it Brazil's most violent city. With a population of 1.1 million, the city's murder rate is 109 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to the national rate of 26 per 100,000.
Police say much of the violence is linked to the city's booming trade for crack cocaine.
"Most addicts are killed because they can't pay back the debt they own their dealer," one military police officer tells the AFP in a video (see below). "The traffickers like to show who's boss to ensure they get their money, so they make an example of the user by murdering him."
InSight Crime Analysis
Thanks to the security surges in larger cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, drug traffickers have been pushed into new markets. This includes poorer cities like Maceio, where the state government is ridden with debt and lacks the budget for community policing and social projects.
But the city is not alone in its struggle against crack addiction. Brazil's health minister has said that the country is facing "an epidemic" of cocaine and crack use, and the national government has budgeted $2 billion to curb the spread of the drug.
Crack is basically the leftovers from the cocaine production process. Maceio may have built up a large crack market thanks to the dynamics of the Brazilian drug trade, in which dealers who purchase a cocaine shipment for distribution frequently must also buy a percentage of by-product. Prison gang the First Capital Command (PCC) was reportedly able to build up a sizeable crack cocaine market in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo using this strategy.