The New Yorker Out Loud online edition looks at a decade of drug use decriminalization policies in Portugal. Last week, reporter at large Michael Specter and commentator Blake Eskin discussed live how Portugal’s response to drug abuse, as public health issue rather than a crime, can offer lessons to the United States.
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the European Union to decriminalize drug use. Portugal abolished criminal penalties for possession of drugs including substances classified as hard drugs.
Rather than criminalizing drug users, those found in possession of drugs are being sent to a “dissuasion commission” or “dissuasion board” for treatment by social workers and psychologists.
The result is that Portugal now has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime rates for cannabis and heroin abuse. Drug use among teens has declined; rates of HIV infections caused by sharing used needles have dropped; and the number of drug users seeking treatment has more than doubled.
Deaths by accidental overdoses have also declined as has crime associated with addicts stealing to maintain their habit.
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