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In Portugal, Drug Use Is Treated As A Medical Issue, Not A Crime

Gandelina Damião, 78, mislaid 3 children to heroin in a 1990s. She says she wishes methadone clinics and other government-sponsored drug diagnosis had been accessible to her children before they died.

Lauren Frayer for NPR


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Lauren Frayer for NPR

Gandelina Damião, 78, mislaid 3 children to heroin in a 1990s. She says she wishes methadone clinics and other government-sponsored drug diagnosis had been accessible to her children before they died.

Lauren Frayer for NPR

Gandelina Damião, 78, is henceforth hunched, carrying her sorrow. She mislaid 3 children to heroin in a 1990s.

A entertain century ago, her cobblestone lane, adult a grassy mountain from Lisbon’s Tagus River, was dirty with syringes. She recalls carrying to hunt for her teenagers in graffitied mill buildings nearby, where they would fire up.

“It was a outrageous blow,” Damião says, indicating to framed photos on her wall of Paulo, Miguel and Liliana. “I was a good mother. we never gave them income for drugs. But we couldn’t save them.”

For most of a 20th century, Portugal was a closed, Catholic society, with a troops tyrant and no drug education. In a early 1970s, immature Portuguese group were drafted to quarrel wars in a country’s African colonies, where many were unprotected to drugs for a initial time. Some came home addicted.

In 1974, there was a series — and an blast of freedom.

“It was a small bit like a Americans in Vietnam. Whiskey was cheaper than water, and cannabis was easy to access. So people came home from fight with some [drug] habits,” says João Goulão, Portugal’s drug czar. “Suddenly all was opposite [after a revolution]. Freedom! And drugs were something that came with that freedom. But we were totally naive.”

By a 1990s, 1 percent of Portugal’s race was bending on heroin. It was one of a misfortune drug epidemics in a world, and it stirred Portugal’s supervision to take a novel approach: It decriminalized all drugs. Starting in 2001, possession or use of any drug — even heroin — has been treated as a health issue, not a crime.

Treating Addiction As A Chronic Disease

Goulão, who had worked as a family medicine in his 20s, during a tallness of a crisis, says there was really small antithesis to a process change.

“Every family had a possess drug addict. It was so, so benefaction in bland life, that it incited open opinion,” Goulão says. “We are traffic with a ongoing relapsing disease, and this is a illness like any other. we do not put a diabetic in jail, for instance.”

Under a 2001 decriminalization law, authored by Goulão, drug dealers are still sent to prison. But anyone held with reduction than a 10-day supply of any drug — including heroin — gets imperative medical treatment. No judge, no courtroom, no jail.

Instead they finish adult in a frugally furnished, discreet, unmarked bureau in downtown Lisbon, for conversing with supervision sociologists, who confirm either to impute them to drug diagnosis centers.

A quarrel of deserted buildings in northern Lisbon, where drug addicts mostly hang out, nap and fire up.

Lauren Frayer for NPR


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Lauren Frayer for NPR

A quarrel of deserted buildings in northern Lisbon, where drug addicts mostly hang out, nap and fire up.

Lauren Frayer for NPR

“It’s cheaper to yield people than to detain them,” says sociologist Nuno Cabaz. “If we come opposite someone who wants my help, I’m in a most improved position to yield it than a decider would ever be. Simple as that.”

Cabaz’s group of 10 counselors handles all of Lisbon’s roughly 2,500 drug cases a year. It might sound like a lot, though it’s indeed a 75 percent dump from a 1990s. Portugal’s drug-induced genocide rate has plummeted to 5 times reduce than a European Union average.

Along a quarrel of deserted buildings in northern Lisbon, margin psychologists took NPR to accommodate some of Portugal’s remaining drug users. The bank is dirty with needles and ripping with wildflowers. The sky rumbles with airliners alighting during a general airfield nearby.

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There’s a truth book on a petrify bob subsequent to a prime male who’s smoking moment cocaine. He gives his name as Rui and says a tarnish opposite addicts has eased given decriminalization.

“Now, not so much. It’s less, since a methadone is coming, and people are treating this problem,” he says. “They see a drugs with another perspective.”

Every day, a supervision outpost pulls adult and gives him a sip of methadone, an opioid that helps wean people off of heroin. It’s a step toward harm-reduction. He still does cocaine, though no longer shoots up.

Drug-related HIV infections in Portugal have forsaken 95 percent.

Drug workers palm out packets with purify needles and condoms and listen to another addict, Antonio, report his anxiety.

“If a drugs harm too most my body, we shun a little, and afterwards we come behind again,” he says. “But it’s a universe we can't escape! If we spin there, it’s there — it’s everywhere. we can't escape.”

For each chairman in Portugal who can't shun addiction, there’s daily methadone, conversing and giveaway treatment. A era ago, these addicts were put in jail. Now they’re on a street.

But polls uncover a Portuguese — carrying lived by a ravages of a heroin widespread — overwhelmingly support this policy.