In July of 2001, Portugal decriminalized every drug, from marijuana all up to heroin. Many across the world figured this decision was a death wish. Many believed Lisbon, the country’s capital city, would be become a safe haven for drug-seeking citizens and tourists, but almost 14 years later, the results have shown otherwise.
Decriminalizing and legalizing do not the share the same meaning. Portugal’s drug policy declared that drug possession for personal use and using drugs are still deemed illegal by law but that these violations are not to be deemed as criminal offenses. Drug trafficking, on the other hand, is still prosecuted as a criminal offense. This means that incidents of possession and drug use are taken out of criminal courts and put into a special court where each offense is evaluated and judged by social workers and psychologists. From there, drug addiction treatment and other actions are considered and decided upon. In these cases, drug usage is treated as a public health concern, rather than a criminal matter. Other countries in the European Union (EU) have implemented some form of drug decriminalization, such as that of less dangerous drugs like marijuana, but Portugal is still the only member of the EU with a law that declares all drugs to be decriminalized.
Recent data indicates that decriminalization has no harmful effect on drug use rates in the Portugal. Portugal, in fact, exhibits some of the lowest rates of drug use in the EU, especially when these numbers are compared to locations with strict criminalization policies. While drug usage rates have remained about the same since the decriminalization measure took place, other harmful byproducts of drug addiction, such as drug overdose death and sexually transmitted diseases, have drastically decreased. Another positive trend is the increase in number of drug users in treatment. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of drug users in drug addiction treatment rose from 23,654 to 38,532. This marks a 41 percent increase. Alex Stevens, a professor of criminal justice at the United Kingdom’s University of Kent stated, “Releasing funds from [enforcement] allows you to spend more on treatment.”
Policy experts believe these positive trends are due to the increased availability of drug addiction treatment programs in Portugal. By decriminalizing drug usage, citizens have become more inclined to step forward about their problems with drugs without fear of legal ramification. By spending more money on treatment options for drug addicts, accessibility and quality in treatment options have room to improve. These improvements in health care reform were made possible by the decriminalization measure over a decade ago.
While the implementation of this policy is not recent, the data resulting from it over time can serve as a good example of the effectiveness of treating drug addiction as a public health concern rather than a criminal one. The reported number of drug addicts in the country was as high as a 100,000 in the 1990s. This number over the past decade been has been cut in half. As counterintuitive as this measure may have seemed at the time to policymakers, its effect on the community has shown to be highly beneficial and lead to a positive reallocation of resources towards better health care for those who are struggling with addiction.
Substance abuse is an epidemic that affects people all over the world. For those who still struggle with drug addiction, Sovereign Health Group is here to help. We provide effective inpatient and outpatient treatment options for patients struggling with drug addiction, mental health disorders, and dual diagnosis. If you know someone who is in need of addiction treatment, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 888-530-4614. Our admissions helpline is open 24 hours a day and one of our treatment specialists will assist you in finding the right treatment option.