Fighting Drug Addiction: Portugal’s Success Story With Decriminalizing Drugs


According to the New Yorker, by the end of the 20th century, almost 1% of Portugal’s entire population was addicted to heroin or any related narcotic drugs considered illegal by many nations around the world.

In fact, Portugal was ranked number one in the European Union for the use of narcotics related drugs in 1999. That was a difficult period for the country.

Historians say the drug problem in Portugal had its genesis from the Carnation Revolution- a bloodless military coup which overthrew the 50-year dictatorship of the Estado Novo regime in 1974.

Before the revolution, Portugal was said to be one of the drug-free countries in Western Europe. But the Carnation Revolution which many sociologists consider as the agent of change in Portugal’s history also came with a price that needed a very strategic thinking before it could be paid.

The revolution sparked a chaotic transition from autocracy to democracy. The whole Portuguese society struggled to define a new nation that would open up the country to the rest of the world.

The new regime pushed through a rapid and hasty programme of decolonization of its territories. The next few years after the revolution saw Portugal given up it colonies such as Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome and Principe and Angola. All these countries became independent. Soldiers and civilians who were stationed in these newly-freed colonies returned to the country with a variety of drugs.

The country opened up its airspace, water and land borders which made travel and exchange much easier. Due to this new freedom, Portugal became a natural gateway for trafficking of hard drugs across the European continent. Drug use became part of the culture of liberation, and the use of hard narcotics became popular. Eventually, it got out of hand, and drug use became difficult for the then government to fight.

But when everybody thought the country has lost it as far as the drug addiction fight is concerned, in 2001, the Portuguese government did something which other governments in Europe and US probably would have never done. It decriminalized all hard drug-related offences. That was a real shocker in Europe.

The new law the government promulgated was that if someone is found in the possession of any hard drug ranging from marijuana to heroin, the person is sent to a three-person Commission called the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction (DDA). The DDA is made up of a lawyer, a doctor and a social worker. The commission recommends treatment or a minor fine. In most cases, the person is sent off without any penalty if the commission thinks there is enough evidence to show that the person has regretted and would not use such drugs again.

It has been 14 years now since Portugal embarked on this strategy to fight the drug addiction among its citizens. Many countries made fun of it and predicted that the country would soon be overrun by drugs. But the records now show that the country has improved far more than when it was using the hard way to punish drug offenders.

Findings from the British Journal of Criminology (BTC) indicate that the rate of imprisonment relating to drug-offences have significantly reduced whereas there have been a rise in visits to health clinics that deal with diseases relating to drug addiction.

Many experts including Alex Stevens, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Kent and also a co-author of the BTC article have urged countries to follow the shining example of Portugal.

“The main lesson to learn decriminalizing drugs doesn’t necessarily lead to disaster and it does free up resources for more effective responses to drug-related problems,” Professor Stevens told the Mic.

Despite the fact that Portugal is currently facing a precarious financial situation, its shift of drug control from the Justice Department to the Health Ministry has propelled the public health model for treatment of hard drug addiction. If other governments would not dare follow their economic policies, surely, its policies for fighting drug addiction are worth emulating. The country is now ripping the benefits of that hard decision it took some 14 years ago.



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  1. Hey guys, I feel paranoid about asking this, but I want to know if this has happened to anyone else. I came across this article on Facebook and after reading it, shared it, because I’ve had a theory for years now that if he criminalized drugs and helped addicts instead of punishing them, we’d have a lot less addicts. I had no idea Portugal had done this 14 years ago. I just found another article that proved the health admin had been paid 1.3 mil to tell lies about the effects of sugar and soda our something like that, and when I tried to share it, all I keep getting is a “SSL Connection Error”. Does this ever happen to anyone else? Is it farfetched to think there’s someone intentionally blocking right now from sharing these articles? Or an I just being paranoid?

  2. I’m from Portugal, that’s not interely true.

    Every drug is forbidden to be sold but you can consume it (not sell)

    So if you are caught with a small dose of any drug (consumption dose) that drug is destroyed but there’s no criminal charge, nothing happens to that person.

    If a person is caught with more than the define dosage for the drug their carrying than it’s automatically assumed that they sell, in that case they will face criminal acusation.

    There’s free help for drug users, but they don’t force anyone to go there, even if they are caught with drugs.

    A drug user must ask for the “treatment” (where there are lawyers and doctors to help and manage a withdraw of the drug, then the person will be controlled with blood test to keep out of using).

    Hope this was helpfull, I personally think that this measure helped, but if it was like in the article (legallized drugs and immediat help for those who are caught using) than the results would be even better.

    • Thank you for the “man on the street’ review of this article. I think that prisons (now mostly private in the US), are more interested in making money than justice. Decriminilization of drugs would interfere with drug gangs and political agendas. Look at just trying to legalize pot. I have been taking medical marijuana for over 16 years and I am still “normal”. I don’t live a criminal life and I am on hell of a good dad and grandfather. The US government has it’s head up it’s ass. It doesn’t care a damn what the people watch…. the rich and the politicians RULE this country (or should I say War Machine).

      Thanks again for your comments from the street. Our government continues to fund LIES LIES and more LIES. Mabye all of our government should have ecstacy put into their water instead of fluoride. This world is SCREWED.

    • Everything you say it’s correct except the part ”If a person is caught with more than the define dosage for the drug their carrying than it’s automatically assumed that they sell, in that case they will face criminal acusation.” I smoke weed from time to time and when i buy it i buy large amounts from 100gr to 300gr because it cames way cheaper and 1 time i was caugth with 150gr, i was sent to the police station to explain it and then 2 days later i had that meeting with the DDA because only if you also have a scale with you, you can be arrested and charged and eventually go to prison

    • Bom comentario hugo ^^.

      So, my cousing works at a lawyer’s department.What Hugo said was right, you can wonder around with a small quantity, but if you’re founded with more thant that limit you’re arrested.That’s correct, i just wanted to add this.Sometimes, when you’re caught with that limit, still ,the Police takes you to the station in order to try to get the information of the seller(no, they’re not over-abusive-violent cops here[at least that i know]),and if you don’t cooperate you can be seen has a sidekick of the seller.In case they caught the seller & he confirms he sold to you, well you’re goin in with him xD

    • im portuguese too and your rong on that point you are kinda forced to go to that clinics to have a light penalty my own experience

  3. I grow so tired of these articles. Suggesting the US should emulate a policy from a completely different continent ignores context and detail. Suggesting every sovereign state is the same as every other is stupid. The economics of the US and any member of the EU are completely different.

    • true, the US will always have poeple that bring drugs in the country over the border with tanks and stuff, altough i believe in a non-violent way of dealing with drugs and addicts instead of putting them behind bars and such. not to mention all the poeple that are “legally” adicted to prescribtion drugs.

      • If you check the map, due to the geographic location of Portugal (mentioned in the article), it is located over the main drug routes to Europe.
        Drugs that enter by air, land and water and come from Africa, South & North America, find Portugal a country in a “precarious financial situation” which is perfect because police/army inspections and invenstigations aren’t so well funded as in a country like the US.
        So it still is a main entry of drugs to Europe (like referred in the article), but it as not so many addicts anymore. Basically our policy reduced the drug use but raised the drug dealing (in and out of borders). Nowadays, like Hugo said in a reply for this article, authorities are more focused in the drug dealing and starting to ignore the drug use again. In 14 years from now we hope to see the results, and also hope to not go back to 2001 bad situation again.
        I’m Portuguese and sorry for my bad english.

  4. I´m Portuguese and this is not true, and you know, the reason we have a drug department is because we did not legalize that sort of thing. Our laws proibit this, the problem is that law enforcement is very weak and justice works really bad. It´s illigal, the only problem is that there isn´t a big punishment.

    • Well that comment just proves you know nothing and just hate on our law enforcement, every drug in portugal has a certain dosage wich is legal, for example marijuana is around 2.5 grams and cocain is around 0.2 grams, any dosage above that is considered illegal

        • drugs are not illegal, or rather it should not be in any country in the world, which is illegal is the laws against drugs and the way they criminalize it. drug users should be considered sick and should be treated as such and all those resources spent by governments uselessly should be redirected provide free treatment to all those who are addicted to any drugs, both illegal and legal

  5.–_what_happened_next Glen Greenwald did an investigative piece on the Portugal change of policy on drug use in 2011. The key point I had always remembered was decriminalizing versus legalizing. It allowed the country to use the money from criminalizing to pay for rehab. As far as my experience (RN since ’77) this makes excellent sense. I live in Colorado and am very pleased with the legalization of marijuana. It is far safer than alcohol or cigarettes. The biggest result we have seen is millions of tax $$$ going to the state coffers to help pay for K-12 education.

    • the numbers of first time uses, repeat users, and death via overdose have been vastly reduced. its worth a net search and reading a few articles if you want the numbers

  6. In fact,I saw in an article that the portuguese policy against drug consumption was being studied by some countries, including northern countries such as finland, and they say that something Portugal is doing right because the results are the best.

  7. Well in mass we get screwed more then R.I. when that’s were our. Drugs come from like IMA Heroin addict every time I get caught I go to prison…. Not fair in my eyes

  8. It is a no’brainer that decriminalising all drugs is the way forward for humankind, when the amount of money spent on fighting drugs, is instead spent on rehabilitation and education of drugs, then there will be a much brighter future for all people on all walks of life… The benefits that result from decriminalisation are massive and cannot be ignored, drug related crime reduced easily 50% the quality control of the drugs themselves! improve amazingly obviously making them generally safer if one so chooses to experiment as well thats what life is about isnt it? “experience”. Also I believe this can/will have an ultimately beneficial result with our youth generations as well, we can educate them properly and even give them safe environments to experiment with there interests if any and I think with them having this sort of community peer support structure drugs would no longer have the enticing or rebellious type of ‘fuck the world’ stigmata attached to them. Hence forth the majority of youth and even young adults would evolve right past this whole current anti-life repetative cycle ending with criminal convictions strife unacceptance and commonly tradgic death.
    I say Project Entheogen is a serious Key to global peace and evolution.
    Peace out Anons, Ez.

  9. Hi,

    Im Portuguese and that´s so untrue.
    I do not know who wrote this article, but that is false!!
    it is forbidden in Portugal to consume what is called illegal drugs.
    It is forbidden in Portugal to carry what they call illegal drugs
    trust me I know of what I speak. I have been through this experience


    • im portuguese too so you know nothing about your own contry is legal to consume illegal to sell if you get cought with the dosage for your only dayly consume at very max cops just takes the drug from you (My own experiance)

  10. How about the concept that grown adults have the right to smoke or consume what they want, as long as they’re not harming anyone else? A person smoking a joint in the privacy of their own home is no different from them having a beer. Different drugs, different effects, but same principle. There are mind-altering plants and substances that people have been using recreationally or spiritually for thousands of years, long before governments existed, and the human race got along just fine.

    • well is that what hapens in portugal if you get cought with the “dose of the day” at very max the cops just take the drugs from you no fine or jail but if you cary more then the law alows cops assume that is for sale the you are kinda fuked


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