Stigma: Stigma Free

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Arthur Schopenhauer

Decriminalization of Drugs? The Portugal Addiction Treatment Approach

Everyone knows substance abuse is an epidemic. Most families, if not all are affected or directly indirectly in the United States. We have tried a “War on Drugs” approach for over 20 years now. It’s not working. We are suffering an increase in overdoses, and the problem is not improving here in America. But it is elsewhere. Portugal has found a path to a solution. The first part of the new approach is to remove the stigma from the political system. As long as we treat addiction as a criminal issue as opposed to a healthcare issue, there is little evidence that we will make a dent. A Dr. named, Joao Goulao, has masterminded a plan to decriminalize drugs and its now been implemented for over a decade. A New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof explains:
“Decades ago, the United States and Portugal both struggled with illicit drugs and took decisive action — in diametrically opposite directions. The U.S. cracked down vigorously, spending billions of dollars incarcerating drug users. In contrast, Portugal undertook a monumental experiment: It decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, and unleashed a major public health campaign to tackle addiction. Ever since in Portugal, drug addiction has been treated more as a medical challenge than as a criminal justice issue…In contrast, Portugal may be winning the war on drugs — by ending it. Today, the Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began…It’s not a miracle or perfect solution. The way Portugal approached addiction treatment is with actual substance abuse treatment. If the U.S. could achieve Portugal’s death rate from drugs, we would save one life every 10 minutes. We would save almost as many lives as are now lost to guns and car accidents combined.” The Portugal drug use decrease has been astronomical, if we could implement a working model of this in America we could get more addicts into treatment and out of our jails and institutions.

The Societal Fears of Decriminalization of Drugs

Many people predicted that the legalization of drugs would cause absolute chaos. Experts said that it would make drugs more attractive, increase usage, and cause other societal issues. The opposite has occurred. It has been reported. The Washington Post reports, “Whenever we debate similar measures in the U.S. — marijuana decriminalization, for instance — many drug-policy makers predict dire consequences. “If you make any attractive commodity available at lower cost, you will have more users,” former Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director Thomas McLellan once said of Portugal’s policies. Joseph Califano, founder of the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, once warned that decriminalization would “increase illegal drug availability and use among our children.” None of this is true. Equally surprising is that use of other substances by youth to get high have declined as well. The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has done a study. Christopher Ingraham writes, “the report notes that the use of “legal highs” — like so-called “synthetic” marijuana, “bath salts” and the like — is lower in Portugal than in any of the other countries for which reliable data exists. This makes a lot of intuitive sense: why bother with fake weed or dangerous designer drugs when you can get the real stuff?”

So the new policy doesn’t make drugs legal. It just doesn’t carry an institutional punishment for being an addict. It costs less to help a person than it does to punish them. Incarnation would not work on diabetes or cancer and does not work on addiction either. Following in Portugal’s footsteps, we could significantly decrease a substantial number of issues that are arising alongside addiction such as diseases, high incarceration, and recidivism rates.

Decriminalization of Drugs for Addicts

An NPR article gives a clear summary of how decriminalization of drugs works for addicts, not for drug dealers and others involved in the illegal distribution and selling of drugs. “Under the 2001 decriminalization law, authored by Goulão, drug dealers are still sent to prison. But anyone caught with less than a 10-day supply of any drug — including heroin — gets mandatory medical treatment. No judge, no courtroom, no jail.” Also as a byproduct, “Drug-related HIV infections in Portugal have dropped 95 percent.”

When it comes to substance abuse between treatment or imprisonment, Portugal has proven that treatment is the better option.