Eagle Times Bulletin

  • 2017-2018 School year begins Monday, August 28, 2017

War on Drugs: Rehabilitation

Ruth Caster, Writer

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Decades ago, the United States and Portugal struggled with illicit drugs, ones used for recreation, and took decisive action in diametrically opposite directions. The U.S. enforced drug laws vigorously, spending billions of dollars incarcerating drug users, funding more law enforcement, and made stricter drug laws across the country.

In contrast, Portugal undertook a monumental experiment: decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, and unleashed a major public health campaign, an educational one, to break addiction. Ever since that time, Portugal drug addiction functions more as a medical challenge, rather than a criminal justice issue.

After more than 15 years, experience shows decriminalizing and treating drug addiction works better than incarcerating drug addicts. Unlike some government officials who feel that recreational drugs need a stronger legal punishment, in truth, the drug policy, a futile effort, failed since 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016.

In contrast, Portugal won the drug war by eradicating laws against drug addictions, and allowing individuals to seek  help , rather than fearing  law enforcement. In 2017, the Health Ministry estimates 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.

Methadone and other drug treatment programs exist in the U.S., but remain expensive or difficult to access. Unfortunately, only ten percent of Americans that struggle with addiction receive treatment. However, in contrast, most of  Portugal’s addicts have access to standard treatment and medical care.

As a result, Portugal has the lowest drug-induced death rates in Western Europe, a small fraction compared to the American toll. Portugal did not change laws on drug trafficking, and dealers still spend time in prison for their crime. They did not quite legalize drug use, but rather made the purchase of small quantities (up to a 10 day supply) only an administrative offense. Nowadays, drug possession in Portugual no longer poses as a serious crime.

Offenders attend a “Discussion Commission” hearing,  an informal meeting at a conference table with social workers who try to prevent recreational use from changing to addiction. “My main concern is the health of the person,” Capaz explained afterward. “Our approach is much closer to that of a medical doctor than to a court of law.”

As the public health awareness arises from an increasingly common view that addiction shows signs equal to a chronic disease, perhaps comparable to diabetes, they decry it requires medical care rather than punishment. After all, people do not tell diabetics to overcome it. This new perspective sees drug addiction as a treatable disease with a hope for cure.

Should the U.S. take action like Portugal to win this drug war?

 

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