Portugal’s Fix

Here is a short doco from SBS about Portugal decriminalising the use of all drugs, from marijuana to heroin, but has it worked in tackling the country’s drug problem?

A decade ago, Portugal took the bold step of completely decriminalising the use of all drugs. At the time, the country was suffering the highest instance of drug-related AIDS deaths in all of Europe. Drastic action needed to be taken to reach out to the addicts. But opponents warned the course that Portugal took would turn the country into a drug abuser’s paradise and that usage would soar. 10 years on, how well has the policy worked?

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  • Scanner

    Perhaps this warrants further discussion, one thing is for sure our current methodology for dealing with this problem doesn’t work.
     Also you can bet allowing politicians to fix the problem will work – Yeah Right

  • Richard McGrath

    Good doco Cam; next step would be legalising the sale of these drugs, thus putting the lowlife street traders out of business and improving the quality and price of the product. I say this as a doctor who has spent fifteen years working in methadone treatment centres.

    As a libertarian, I say all drugs should be legalised for adults. It is none of the state’s business what I want to put into my body, and I should be held responsible for the consequences.

    • Thorn

      Richard, who pays for the habit when the addict runs out of their own and others’ money?

      • Willsomers101

        Make it cheaper ! Surely that is the answer ( and is the medical  reason why addicts are given free methadone)

    • Mike

      I would agree that people can harm themselves, if we did not have taxpayer-funded health care. I resent my tax dollars being used to pay for preventable health problems that people inflict on themselves. Free P will increase the number of young addicts, with all of them (except for the few who kill themselves) needing 20+ years of taxpayer-funded stage 3 care when their fried brains switch off and their bodies live on autopilot.

      • TheBug

        So tax it so that the users pay for their own health costs over time (as is done with cigarettes and alcohol). Legal and taxed would end up being a similar price to the cost now but the government would be getting the money to pay off the health costs rather than the money going to gangs.

  • Peter Wilson

    Thought provoking.

    Hard to disagree with a lot of it, treating drug users as patients requiring help and not a criminal record.

    Part of the problem is these sort of issues are seen as left v right. Greenies trying to decriminalise drugs etc, so the right finds a reason to oppose it.

    • Honcho

      I dont see it as left vs. right, at all.

      The topic here is conservative vs. liberal values, which is something which crosses the divide, and which of those two polar values achieves the most agreeable result.

      agreed, very thought provoking stuff.

    • Paul Rain

      Pretty sure doctors manage to treat criminals who’ve been stabbed.

      The reality is that these issues are left v right. Sure, it makes sense to not enforce drug laws, so they can be used solely against criminals who have managed to intimidate witnesses and the like; but if drugs are decriminalized, this country will be between one and two Lab-Green coalitions away from employers not being allowed to discriminate against jobseekers who use drugs. And National, as part of the right wing of the left wing, will decide it’s really quite a nice law after all, just like the smacking bill, the interest free student loans, and all the other damage Labour ever does.

  • Rockyr

    I wonder why the nation has slid progressively from a prosperous productive position at the start of the current century to the hopeless basket case it is today.

    • ConwayCaptain

      EU and Euro is why she is down the shute like Greece,Italy ertc

      • Michael

        It’s Government deficit spending that’s fucked Portugal. The issue here is are things better off under liberal drug laws? And it appears for casual users (the so-called weekend junkies) they are.  For dealing with hard core users and dealers the law hasn’t been a success.

  • Urban Redneck

    The reality of Portuguese drug addiction has been blatantly
    tampered with. The statistical results have been insidiously manipulated
    by institutions controlled by the government. The Portuguese IDT goes on
    distorting the numbers and manipulate minds:

    As a matter of fact Portugal remains the country with the
    highest incidence of IDU-related AIDS and it is the only country recording a
    recent increase. 703 newly diagnosed infections, followed from a distance by
    Estonia with 191 and Latvia with 108 reported cases. We’re top of the list,
    with a shameful 268% aggravation from the next worst case (EMCDDA – November

    ‘The number of new cases of HIV / AIDS and Hepatitis C in
    Portugal recorded among drug users is eight times the average found in other
    member states of the European Union. “Portugal keeps on being the country
    with the most cases of injected drug related AIDS (85 new cases per one million
    of citizens in 2005, while the majority of other EU countries do not exceed 5
    cases per million) and the only one registering a recent increase. 36 more
    cases per one million of citizens were estimated in 2005 comparatively to 2004,
    when only 30 were referred ” (EMCDDA – November 2007).

    ‘Since the implementation of decriminalization in Portugal,
    the number of homicides related to drug use has increased 40%. “Portugal
    was the only European country to show a significant increase in homicides
    between 2001 and 2006.” (WDR – World Drug Report, 2009) “With
    219 deaths by drug ‘overdose’ a year, Portugal has one of the worst records,
    reporting more than one death every two days. Along with Greece, Austria and
    Finland, Portugal is one of the countries that recorded an increase in drug
    overdose by over 30% in 2005”.(EMCDDA – November 2007).

    ‘The number of deceased individuals that tested positive for
    drugs (314) at the Portuguese Institute of Forensic Medicine in 2007 registered
    a 45% rise climbing fiercely after 2006 (216). This represents the highest
    numbers since 2001 – roughly one death per day – therefore reinforcing the
    growth of the drug trend since 2005(Portuguese IDT – November 2008). “Behind
    Luxembourg, Portugal is the European country with the highest rate of
    consistent drug users and IV heroin dependents”. (Portuguese Drug Situation
    Annual Report, 2006.)

    ‘Between 2001 and 2007, drug use increased 4.2%, while the
    percentage of people who have used drugs (at least once) in life, multiplied
    from 7.8% to 12%. Cannabis: from 12.4% to 17%. Cocaine: from 1.3% to 2.8%.
    Heroine: from 0.7% to 1.1%.Ecstasy: from 0.7% to 1.3%. (Report of Portuguese
    IDT 2008) “There remains a notorious growing consumption of cocaine in
    Portugal, although not as severe as that which is verifiable in Spain. The
    increase in consumption of cocaine is extremely problematic.” (Wolfgang Gotz,
    EMCDDA Director – Lisbon, May 2009)’

    So decriminalization is no panacea either. I struggle with this issue though. I’ve never understood why anyone would want to take drugs. An utterly worthless pursuit in my view.

    • Agent BallSack

      I dont think all drugs are worthless. Would be interested to know whether you have ever used caffeine, nicotine or alcohol. All those have specific effects on the central nervous system and increase levels of dopamine, the very high that drug users crave.

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting where are all the nay Sayers.
    I have said this before we are long overdue for a sensible discussion on this topic as the current policy hasn’t and won’t work.
    The problem I see with Portugal is that whilst they have decriminalized the use they don’t seem to have addressed the problem of legal supplies, like cigarettes and alcohol. If it was legal to sell like other legal drugs, excise tax could fund all of the health problems and turn a profit for the Government. Why would you buy from and illegal and unknown quality if you could buy from a legitimate source.
    The organized Gangs and their political wing would appose this with every bone in their collective bodies. They would much prefer a return to prohibition on alcohol and tobacco. Not to mention anything else they could make a profit at.

    • Agent BallSack

      As per the Netherlands. Government controlled heroin is available at a very low cost, many people can be drug addicted yet still function in society. Its the countries where those drugs are so expensive and illicit drug users spend all their time trying to source and pay for drugs. New Zealand has a very low Heroin addiction per pop but those users account for a lot of crime to pay for their addictions. I have seen people go onto the Methadone Programme in NZ and suddenly the urge to source those drugs becomes less urgent.

    • Rockyr

      The current policy is working we have an improving situation whereas Portugal has a deteriorating situation.

  • Exclamation Mark

    Anyone here read Ben Elton’s excellent book on the subject High Society?  You might not be a fan of Elton but that book changed the way I looked at the criminalisation of drugs to the point I would really love for NZ to have a proper debate on the issue.

  • “Very interesting where are all the nay Sayers.”

    Maybe they’re like me and see drug legalization as an issue of very low priority.

    As that idiot queer Perigo proved, in his one shot at the big time with ACT and Don Brash, he stuffed it up completely with his whining wingeing small minded obsession with drugs.

    There are many more important things that need fixing in this country before we start on drug legalization.

    BTW, Urban Redneck is right. The stats on the Portuguese situation are bullshit, and the report put out by Cato was bullshit as well.


    “At variance with what official agencies have recently disclosed, the
    problem of drug dependence in Portugal has never been more serious:
    Between 2001, the year the decriminalization law went into effect, and
    2007, continued consumption of narcotics rose, in absolute terms, by

    In this period In this period consumption increased 215% for cocaine,
    85% for ecstasy, 57.5% for heroine and 37% for cannabis.. These data
    are from a report of the Institute of Drugs and Drug Dependence (IDT),
    published in 2008.

    Since decriminalization there has been a 50% increase in drug use among
    young people between the ages of 20 and 24. On the other hand, the
    number of persons who have experimented with illicit drugs at least once
    rose from 7.8% in 2001 to 12% in 2007 (IDT Report of Activities of Nov



  • Mike

    There is one simple action that will control drug dealers (they will all move to Australia if we do this) – get rid of cash money. We are a sufficiently technological society to make all transactions electronic. Stuff the few people who can’t or won’t operate bank accounts. The dealers will have no way to operate, and the IRD will be able to downsize to just some lawyers and one or two IT staffers. Burglars and fences will be unhappy, extortion will be plainly traceable, etc, etc. I fail to see the downside.

    • nasska

      Your proposal would, if implemented, be a giant leap forward for state power.  If you are happy with living a life under electronic surveillance (which is what plastic money allows) just to stop someone buying a ‘tinnie’ you may not yet be in the majority.

      The drug dealers would have to queue up with the rest of us for a one way ticket out of the world’s latest police state.

  • Wychbych

    All the stats above date from 2007, if I read rightly. ‘The Economist’ had an article in 2009 about the drug figures. They’re down.

    Whether up or down in Portugal, turning drug use into a health issue would certainly free up police time. Having it as a moral issue (‘won’t somebody think of the children!’ style of thing) just causes shrill, strident arguments, the dealers get rich, and the politicians all ostrich their lives away.

    The cotton and timber industries vilified marijuana in the 30s (Randolph J Hearst was one of the foremost proponents) because it would have rendered their industries obsolete, or severly compromised, at least. It was also used to scare white folk (‘reefer madness’) that the black man was after their women… really, just a big hate campaign. Money, pure and simple.

    Could it be that we ‘need’ that many criminals in our society, to give the police something to do? Instead of treating them all as crims, treating them as sick people with addiction problems, what WOULD all those polis do? *sly wink*