Ten Years After Decriminalization, Drug Abuse Down by Half in Portugal

(FORBES)   Drug warriors often contend that drug use would skyrocket if we were to legalize or decriminalize drugs in the United States. Fortunately, we have a real-world example of the actual effects of ending the violent, expensive War on Drugs and replacing it with a system of treatment for problem users and addicts.

Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. One decade after this unprecedented experiment, drug abuse is down by half:

Health experts in Portugal said Friday that Portugal’s decision 10 years ago to decriminalize drug use and treat addicts rather than punishing them is an experiment that has worked.

“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.

Other factors had also played their part however, Goulao, a medical doctor added.

“This development can not only be attributed to decriminalization but to a confluence of treatment and risk reduction policies.”

Many of these innovative treatment procedures would not have emerged if addicts had continued to be arrested and locked up rather than treated by medical experts and psychologists. Currently 40,000 people in Portugal are being treated for drug abuse. This is a far cheaper, far more humane way to tackle the problem. Rather than locking up 100,000 criminals, the Portuguese are working to cure 40,000 patients and fine-tuning a whole new canon of drug treatment knowledge at the same time.

None of this is possible when waging a war.


3 Responses to Ten Years After Decriminalization, Drug Abuse Down by Half in Portugal

  • Congratulations Portugal on having the backbone to implement a truly humane and progressive policy! The so-called war on drugs is nothing more than a war on personal freedom. Unfortunately, in my country- Canada, our fascist government follows the lead of the USA and is hell bent on further destroying what little freedom remains. But then again, keeping drugs illegal is just much too lucrative for the criminals that run the planet! It is also an effective tool for incarcerating and enslaving people in the global gulag. Thanks, Portugal, for setting the bar a little higher!

  • Another great example of the ineffectiveness of prohibition is Tai Wan, formerly known as Formosa. In the 30’s when Chiang Kai Shek and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) ruled Formosa, heroin and opium were illegal, and there were 100,000+ addicts on the island. After the Japanese invaded and took over, heroin was made legal with a doctor’s prescription, as it was in UK. By the end of WW2 in 1945, the number of Formosan addicts had dropped to several hundred. After Japan’s defeat in 1945, Chiang Kai Shek and the KMT returned and made it illegal again, as before the war. The number of addicts went back up to 100,000+ in short order.

    In 1955, the UK government of Sir Anthony Eden outlawed heroin use, despite, as a Times editorial stated, there were only 317 addicts to "manufactured" drugs in the whole of Britain, of which just 15% were dependent on heroin. That’s a national total of 47.5 heroin addicts, who tended to be doctors or middle-class patients who could afford to sustain the habit.

    Heroin usage in UK peaked in the late 80’s/early 90’s and even now there are close to 200,000 recovering addicts undergoing treatment.

    Thank you Sir Anthony.

  • Jct: Just the kind of result Stephen Harper needs to justify his latest crack-down on laughing grass.

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