Portugal's Decriminalization of Drugs:
A Model of Success
In 2001, Portugal made a bold move by decriminalizing the possession and use of drugs. This groundbreaking policy shift aimed to tackle drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal matter. Nearly two decades later, Portugal's approach has proven to be a resounding success, serving as a model for other nations grappling with drug-related problems.
One of the key factors in Portugal's success is its focus on treating drug addiction as a medical condition, rather than a crime. Instead of arresting and imprisoning individuals found with drugs, they are referred to the Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction (CDT). The CDT, composed of legal, medical, and social work professionals, assesses each case and determines an appropriate course of action, which often involves counseling, treatment, and support services.
By decriminalizing drugs, Portugal has effectively reduced the stigma associated with drug addiction. This has encouraged individuals to seek help without fear of legal consequences, leading to a significant increase in the number of people receiving treatment, and a huge decrease in the amount of people who are being housed in prisons and in jails. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the number of drug-related deaths in Portugal has decreased by more than 80% since the policy was implemented! An 80% success rate is unheard of in the addiction world.
Furthermore, the decriminalization policy has had a positive impact on public safety. With a focus on harm reduction, Portugal has seen a decline in drug-related crimes, such as drug trafficking and theft. Law enforcement resources can now be redirected towards more serious offenses, improving overall public safety.
Portugal's approach has also proven to be cost-effective. By diverting funds from the criminal justice system to healthcare and social support services, the country has witnessed a significant reduction in drug-related expenditures. Additionally, the economic burden of incarceration has been greatly reduced, allowing resources to be allocated towards prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation programs.
Another notable achievement of Portugal's decriminalization policy is the reduction in HIV transmission rates among drug users. By providing access to clean needles and promoting safe drug use practices, the country has successfully curbed the spread of the virus. This approach has also led to a decrease in other bloodborne infections, such as hepatitis C.
While Portugal’s decriminalization policy has garnered international acclaim, then I ask why is it so hard for countries such as America, my home country, to recognize that this is exactly the change we need to make. Currently, Americans are facing one of the largest drug abuse epidemics ever recorded. Fentanyl addiction is destroying our families our homes our children our parents everybody is affected it seems somehow or another. Yet in America drugs for the most part are still very criminalized in most States.
My home state is Idaho. For example, in Idaho when you pull up a roster and you look down that long list of inmates you will notice that the majority by far are addicts. Not people selling drugs. Not violent offenders. Not murders and not child molesters or rapist even. By a long shot our jails and our prisons are full of drug addicts. So the natural question would be to ask does this help the problem of addiction, by putting them in prisons and in jails?
Absolutely not. In fact most people can continue use while being in jails or in prisons. This also creates a problem when it comes to these addicts feeling comfortable enough to go and reach out for help. The stigma that is placed upon the people from the media or what not has created a monster. Over the masses and on the other hand you have the police officers and the public officials who have now grown to have a distinct hatred towards these addicts. Officers receive bonuses or promotions for how successful they are at arresting addicts. Police are rewarded and encouraged at such a level that daily we can see video footage of officers trampling citizens rights with no fear of correction in order to fill these jails with non violent, sick, and already suffering human beings. This does absolutely nothing to help in this problem in fact it intensifies it makes it worse and harder for an attic to sober up or get clean when dealing with brutality and prejudice and disrespect it’s such a level that’s never been seen before. And nobody seems to want to talk about it. Nobody wants to mention it cuz they’re afraid of the backlash. In fact whenever I think of the police force in my town, the first thought that comes to mind is they act as if they’re thugs. Corruption on a mass level and nobody can do anything about it. And this isn’t just the point of view from addicts. No this is the point of view from even law abiding citizens who have never done a drug a day in their life. Because when you get those lights behind you on the roadway, everybody looks the same to them and they will destroy your constitutional rights in hopes to find yet another down on their luck drug addict that they can arrest, with high fives, and demeaning comments to boot.
They get rewarded because the more crowded the jails are the bigger kickdowns and funding they get from the top. That we have talked about how influential Portugal’s example has been and how life-changing it has proven to be for their residents, and how this is worldwide known, it makes you wonder what are the real reasons why in America, we are not taking a stand the correct way against addiction. Why we are not helping our people to the best of our abilities. If you’d ask me it makes me wonder if our leaders and our lawmakers truly have the people’s best interests at heart, cuz how could they and remain as broken as they are?
In conclusion, Portugal's decriminalization of drugs has demonstrated remarkable success in addressing drug addiction as a public health issue. By adopting a compassionate and evidence-based approach, the country has seen a reduction in drug-related deaths, crimes, and HIV transmission rates. The cost-effectiveness of this policy shift further underscores its viability. As other nations grapple with drug-related problems, Portugal's model serves as an exemplary framework to consider, offering hope for a more effective and humane approach to drug policy.
Now we just hope that the right people at the right time hear us when we speak out. So hear us.