How Are Drug Addicts Treated in Portugal?
Addiction is a worldwide issue, costing governments a lot of money. The United States is in the midst of an opioid crisis, and the UK’s drug issues – the rise in football disorder partly blamed on cocaine usage.
The norm has been to treat drug addicts as criminals – locking them in prison for taking and selling substances.
Portugal had other ideas. Over twenty years ago, they went against the grain and took a radical approach to their drug problems and addiction. With this new approach, Portugal has laid down a way to deal with addiction and treat addicts more respectfully.
Drug Addiction in Portugal
In the 1990s, Portugal had a serious problem with drug addiction. Around 1% of the entire population was addicted to heroin, and the rate of HIV infection was the worst in Europe. At this point, the government took drastic action to decriminalise drugs, becoming one of the first major countries to do so.
This policy change saw a significant decrease in deaths due to overdose, HIV infections and people in prison for drug offences.
In 1999, there were 369 overdose deaths, but by 2016 that number had dropped to 30. In 2017 there were only 18 HIV diagnoses due to injection; between 1999 and 2017, the number of people incarcerated for drug offences dropped by over 2000.
Today Portugal has one of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe and the amount of high-risk opioid users is now lower than before decriminalisation was enacted.
What is Portugal’s Drug Policy?
Decriminalisation does not mean legal.
If you are caught with drugs on you in Portugal, and is seen as for personal use, then you are likely to face an administrative penalty. This means getting a fine or being admitted to a facility if you are found to be addicted to drugs.
Trafficking and selling drugs are still illegal in Portugal and carry criminal sentences. However, leniency may be granted if you are found to be selling drugs to fund your addiction.
The drug strategy in Portugal has moved towards education and rehabilitation, ending the idea of the War on Drugs. Things like “Just Say No” have been abandoned and drug addiction is treated as a social and health problem, rather than a criminal one.
Benefits of Decriminalising Drugs.
There are many reasons why Portugal has adopted a new approach to tackling addiction. Decriminalisation has many positive outcomes that stretch across the wide breadth of society.
Reduces Government Spending on Punishment and Enforcement
From a purely financial perspective – decriminalisation is good. 1.4 billion pounds is spent annually enforcing drug laws in England. There are more costs on top of this, spread throughout the criminal justice system including prisons, courts and probations. With decriminalisation, some of this money could be funnelled into drug rehabs, treatments and education around addiction or wherever else it is needed.
With the chance of being severely punished decreased, more people may be willing to come forward about their issues. With more openness comes an honest discussion. We can change how we view drugs and see it as a health and social issue, rather than a criminal one. As the conversation around addiction improves, we can focus on the root causes rather than punishment. These issues usually revolve around inequality, poverty and mental health.
More Productive Members of Society
People that are severely addicted to drugs usually become unemployed, may engage in illegal activity and be more of a “burden” on the state. With better drug services and more people entering treatment, more people will overcome their addictions. These people will become more productive in the eyes of society – engaging with the world and not being on the fringe.
Drug Addiction as a Health Issue, not a Crime
The success of treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal one relies on changing attitudes. For decriminalisation to succeed, Portugal had to have a cultural shift and not only change its views on drugs but addiction also, and the people who are addicted.
Understanding and respect have been important to how addicts are treated. Rather than being referred to as junkies, users are called people with addiction disorders and people who use drugs.
Drug addicts are treated for their addiction with wide access to free services across all of Portugal. It is called ‘substitution treatment’ and is available in health centres, pharmacies, hospitals and via non-profit organisations. People that still use drugs can find access to clean needles and are taught about safe usage to lessen the change of HIV transmissions.
This culture shift and better treatment of drug users has meant that more people in Portugal are seeking help for their addiction issues.
Drug and Alcohol Rehab in Portugal
Portugal’s approach to addiction may have you interested in going there for treatment. More and more Brits are travelling abroad for rehabilitation, so it’s not an option you have to feel particularly wary about. Going to somewhere like Portugal for treatment also has many benefits.
Rehab in Portugal provides you with the chance to be in a new environment. It is helpful to be far away from your daily triggers and stresses. Taking yourself out of a potentially toxic environment also removes, for a time, the possible reasons you may drink in the first place.
By going abroad for treatment, you can also gain access to therapies and treatments that may not be available in the UK, alongside standard methods such as detox. Whilst it is true that rehab abroad can cost more, the range of treatment options more than justifies the cost.
Going to Portugal also provides you with more privacy than you would get in the UK. Though it should not be seen as shameful, some people are more comfortable undergoing treatment with some degree of anonymity. Travelling further away to attend rehab provides a good way to achieve this.
Contact Us for Help with Your Addiction
If you are looking for more information about Step One Recovery, then don’t hesitate to get in touch. We provide a unique and confidential drug and alcohol rehab, offering compassion, expertise, and wide treatment options to help you or a loved one overcome addiction.
Contact us today by calling +44 (0) 330 107 2950.