Drug use in Portugal: Harm reduction workers celebrate small victories
Published Thursday, October 11, 2018 10:00PM EDT
In 2001, Portugal became the first country to decriminalize the consumption of all drugs, shifting its focus from punishing users to reducing the harms.
Seventeen years later, two harm reduction workers who drive around the capital Lisbon assisting addicts say they measure their success in small victories.
This is Part Two of a two-part series on Portugal’s decriminalization of all drugs. Click here for Part One.
Psychologists Rita and Ines pack a van each day and drive to back alleys and other places where people shoot up, offering them clean needles, counselling and bottled water.
Caesar Moreno is addicted to heroin and cocaine. He’s never had addiction treatment, although he also admits that he has never asked for it.
Rita and Ines are not there to judge. “If people ingest with a clean syringe, for us it’s a good day,” says Ines.
Moreno appreciates Portugal’s approach to addiction, which – while still sending dealers to jail – treats users as people with a health issue.
“I’m not a criminal,” Moreno says.
“I just take drugs only, nothing else. I’m a good person.”
The workers are also there to help people like Mario, a Romanian who has relied on them for water and to bring him to hospital when he gets ill.
“I started injecting a couple months ago,” he told CTV News. “But I don’t really know how to do it.”
One of the addicts living under a bridge has tuberculosis. Rita and Ines say they’re working to prevent the disease from spreading.
“We are trying to get them to all go for an X-ray,” says Ines.
That seems more possible than before decriminalization, because drug users don’t need to fear arrest.
Meanwhile, rates of communicable diseases like HIV have dropped among drug users since the policy change, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
The NDP believes Canada should follow Portugal’s example and decriminalize all drugs. The Liberals and Conservatives do not support the approach.
With a report from CTV London Bureau Chief Paul Workman in Lisbon, Portugal