Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Portugal's Drug Policy Pays Off

            Ten years ago, the Lisbon neighborhood was a hellhole, a "drug supermarket" where some 5,000 users lined up every day to buy heroin and sneaked into a hillside honeycomb of derelict housing to shoot up. In dark, stinking corners, addicts - some with maggots squirming under track marks - staggered between the occasional corpse, scavenging used, bloody needles.
            At that time, Portugal, like the junkies of Casal Ventoso, had hit rock bottom: An estimated 100,000 people - an astonishing 1 percent of the population - were addicted to illegal drugs. So, like anyone with little to lose, the Portuguese took a risky leap: They decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law in 2000.
            Now, the United States, which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in tiny Portugal, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries - including  Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru - have taken interest, too.
            "The disasters that were predicted by critics didn't happen," said University of Kent professor Alex Stevens, who has studied Portugal's program. "The answer was simple: Provide treatment."
             Drugs in Portugal are still illegal. But here's what Portugal did: It changed the law so that users are sent to counseling and sometimes treatment instead of criminal courts and prison. The switch from drugs as a criminal issue to a public health one was aimed at preventing users from going underground.
Other European countries treat drugs as a public health problem, too, but Portugal stands out as the only one that has written that approach into law. The result: More people tried drugs, but fewer ended up addicted.
              Here's what happened between 2000 and 2008:

* There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.

* Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

* Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.

* The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine - figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

* The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

8 comments:

  1. See, this is living proof. As humans we are rebellious once cornered.

    I'm glad Portugal handled this in a humane manner.

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  2. Oh, that's pretty cool. I wasn't aware they did that in Portugal.

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  3. decriminalization has always been the answer. marijuana and mdma should be decriminalized first imo

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  4. Sounds like they're treating the issue with the respect it deserves. Nice blog, I'm following now :)

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  5. That's interesting... I guess it's sorta like this where I live as well.

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  6. What are we waiting for? Oh that's right, millions of yards of red tape.

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