In 2001 the Portuguese government, desperate to find a solution to a growing drug problem, took a new stance towards recreational drug use — decriminalization, access to treatment and management facilities, as well as public access to clean needles to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS — the number of new cases of both HIV and AIDS reported among those with substance abuse has been in decline from 2000-2013.
This once radical policy change, now called “The Portuguese Decriminalization Model,” makes possession of a personal amount of any drug an administrative violation, and can carry a small fine, but more often is limited to a “dissuasion commission,” accordion to a fact sheet by “Drug Policy Alliance.” Since enacting this policy, drug use has leveled off, those incarcerated on drug charges has declined by 60%, drug overdoses from 2001-20012 has declined by 80%, the number of people seeking treatment has increased by more than 60% from 1998 to 2011 with 70% of those seeking treatment doing so voluntarily.
Portugal is among the countries with the lowest death rates from drug overdoses, at 6 deaths per million, as reported by the New York Times, while the United States sits among the countries with the highest death rates from drug overdoses, at 312 deaths per million. The New York Times also reports that the United States has spent roughly $10,000 per American household on the war on drugs, and over a trillion dollars over the decades, on a drug policy that has led to the death of more than a thousand people a week, while the Portuguese spend close to $10 per citizen a year on their drug policy.
Critics to “The Portuguese Decriminalization Model” feared that Portugal would become a hotspot for drug tourism and while the numbers for the first year did show a slight increase in drug use that quickly leveled off. Recent polls also indicate a decline in the number of young adults who have used drugs in the month prior to the poll.
With reports from the “Center for Disease Control” and “The National Institute on Drug Abuse” reporting more than 72,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the United States during 2017, it is clear we as a nation are not only losing “The War on Drugs”, but also our friends, family, co-workers and fellow Americans.
If the United States were to adopt a model of decriminalization similar to the one implemented by Portugal, maybe those in “the land of the free” would finally be able to break free from their addiction.