Drug addiction in Portugal has decreased by 50 per cent 15 years after the country decriminalized the use of substances. To fight the drug problem, the country regularized the possession and consumption of substances like heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
The new policy included the offering of services to people with drug problems, adoption of solutions and interventions based on scientific knowledge and the involvement of the community in drug policy implementation, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Studies have shown that the environment people live in may influence substance addiction, so this factor was the first enemy of the Portuguese government’s war on drugs. Inspired by the results in Portugal, the World Health Organization advised countries in July 2014 to develop “policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.” Portugal’s successful policies have inspired countries in the European Union to see drugs as a health problem instead of a criminal one, according to Glenn Greenwald’s Drug decriminalization in Portugal.
Decriminalization of drugs in Portugal and other countries has had some exposure in mainstream media over the last years. Earlier this year, the Huffington Post mentioned some benefits that decriminalization of drugs could have in the United States. However, most media have not presented the impact of the policies, proportional to their success. While international organizations urge countries to take similar actions, decriminalization has not been pushed to public debate by mainstream media. Instead, drugs continue to be mostly presented as a cause of social problems instead of a consequence.
Johann Hari, “Portugal cut addiction rates in half by connecting drug users with communities instead of jailing them” Yes Magazine (2015), http://www.yesmagazine.org/peace-justice/portugal-cut-drug-addiction-rates-in-half-by-connecting-users-with-communities
Rute Coelho, “10 years after decriminalization of drug use” DN Portugal (2011) accessed February 18, 2015http://www.dn.pt/inicio/portugal/interior.aspx?content_id=1837101
Maria Moreira, Brendan Hughes, Claudia Costa and Frank Zobel, “Policy Profile – Portugal”, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2011), accessed February 18, 2015,
World Health Organization, “HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations”, World Health Organization, (2014), accessed February 18, 2015, http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/128048/1/9789241507431_eng.pdf?ua=1&ua=1
Glenn Greenwald, “Drug decriminalization in Portugal”, CATO Institute (2009), accessed February 19, 2015,
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CBC News, “Tough drug laws harm health and safety, doctors say”, CBC (2012), accessed February 21, 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tough-drug-laws-harm-health-and-safety-doctors-say-1.1129970
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The Associated Press, “Portugal’s drug policy pays off; U.S. eyes lesson” CTV News (2010), accessed February 20, 2015, http://www.ctvnews.ca/portugal-s-drug-policy-pays-off-u-s-eyes-lessons-1.589869
Student researcher: Carlos Prieto, University of Regina
Faculty evaluator: Patricia Elliott, University of Regina