After Decriminalizing Drug Use, Drug Abuse Falls By Half In Portugal

Prohibition doesn't work2

America’s “war on drugs” is a losing battle. Despite trillions spent, and countless lives lost, drugs are about as accessible in America as they’ve ever been. You’d think this would be a good argument for ending the “war on drugs,” but drug warriors argue that if we end the prohibition drug abuse will get even worse. They argue that while the war on drugs hasn’t really put a dent in the availability of drugs, by making it at least somewhat difficult to buy and use drugs we’re keeping the country safer than it would be otherwise.

Exploding that theory is what has happened in Portugal ten years after decriminalizing drug use. Abuse of drugs in that country has now fallen by half (via The Liberty Beacon):

Health experts in Portugal said Friday that Portugal’s decision 10 years ago to decriminalise drug use and treat addicts rather than punishing them is an experiment that has worked.

“There is no doubt that the phenomenon of addiction is in decline in Portugal,” said Joao Goulao, President of the Institute of Drugs and Drugs Addiction, a press conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the law.

The number of addicts considered “problematic” — those who repeatedly use “hard” drugs and intravenous users — had fallen by half since the early 1990s, when the figure was estimated at around 100,000 people, Goulao said.

Other factors had also played their part however, Goulao, a medical doctor added.

“This development can not only be attributed to decriminalisation but to a confluence of treatment and risk reduction policies.”

You would think that America, of all countries, would understand the folly of this sort of prohibition. After all, our attempt at alcohol prohibition was a monumental failure which caused spikes in alcohol abuse and crime.

Why would we think things would be any better when it comes to narcotics?

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • meh

    Drugs and prostitution and likely the only two issues in which politicans and criminals agree.

    • slackwarerobert

      Are you sure, most pimps don’t like the idea of a prostitute being free.
      And most polititions don’t like the idea of you being able to buy there hookers either.

      • meh

        no but if it was legalized, the price of prostitute will decrease dramatically. Why work for a “daddy” when a brothel would be a more controlled enviroment.

        • The Fighting Czech

          dont count on anything being cheaper. as soon as it were legalized they will be regulated, and taxed to high heaven…. think Cigarettes.

  • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

    Rob’s still up to his stupidity and spreading of misinformation, through misdirection.

    Rob’s argument is one of big government, not decriminalization. The reason Portugal has a lower drug use rate is because their government treats criminals, not just because they don’t punish drug users. Sheez.

    This argument made by Rob makes about as much sense as decriminalizing murder.

    • Rob

      Boy, you sure jump to a lot of conclusions about things I haven’t actually said.

      Maybe I should just let you write my posts, and then respond to them too.

      • Hannitized, Proofs obsession

        Anyone who has a brain (not you) can see you accidentally cut and pasted the truth, while not actually speaking of it or addressing it in your argument.

        Why don’t you learn how to write intelligently, instead of trying to be a bad political hack?

        • Rob

          I know this may surprise you, because you haven’t really spent any time thinking about it, but moving from our very expensive, very labor-intensive drug prohibition policies to legalization and a focus on treatment of drug addiction would be a net reduction in government.

    • slackwarerobert

      Hate to burst your bubble, but they have it. Jihadd murder (legal), spontaneous eruption from video murder (legal), and burned alive once again takes the top spot for government killing people, way to go commifornia.
      Almost forget, not shaving is an affirmative defense now. Not guilty by reason of facial hair.

    • Seejai

      The government treating drug users is actually way more cost effective than failing to regulate it. Plus, some might just quit, so there’s that. Not that I’m a huge fan of these types of government services, but I’d rather we spend the money that way than failing to regulate it.

    • Seejai

      I’m assuming drug users is what you mean by criminals.

  • slackwarerobert

    But if we legalize drugs there would be no need to use the illegals to bring them here, what will they do for jobs?

    • The Fighting Czech

      probably run guns…. its the next growth industry

  • Neiman

    First, we have NEVER waged a war on drugs, that is a lie.

    Next, I would like to know more about other factors in Portugal that might have played a role in reducing use and how they define abuse.

    Yes Rob your Cocaine, Methamphetamine’s, Marijuana will probably soon be legal.

    • Rob

      I always have to laugh when people claim that the problem with the war on drugs is that we’re not doing it hard enough.

      It’s like the tax-and-spend crowd always complaining that the problem is we haven’t taxed and spent enough.

      What will be enough, in your view Neiman?

      • dlao

        I always laugh when people say we have to legalize drugs because what we are doing isn’t working. Then they turn around and bitch about to many people on welfare. Where do you think all these out of prison drug addicts will end up when they are constantly high and can’t hold a job?

        • Rob

          What makes you think we’re stopping anyone from using drugs now?

      • Neiman

        It is probably far too late in permissive, super tolerant America to do anything but buy everyone free drugs, and so it is a mute point. The best answer: When, like Singapore, we make the punishment very swift and severe enough that dealers truly fear being caught, knowing that public caning is the least punishment they must endure and capital punishment a very high probability, fearing such seemingly ruthless reaction to such a destructive crime, the sources will dry up and use will fall to near zero. But, most parents cannot even spank their own children today, which accounts for our high crime rates and drug use.

        By the way – why is it taking nearly two days from posting a comment like yours, until I get notification in my email?

      • silverstreak

        I hope you find this interesting
        A study by the RAND Corporation found treatment is 10 times more cost effective than interdiction in reducing the use of cocaine in the United States and that every additional dollar invested in substance abuse treatment saves taxpayers $7.46 in societal costs. Source: Rydell, C.P. & Everingham, S.S., Controlling Cocaine, Prepared for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the United States Army (Santa Monica, CA: Drug Policy Research Center, RAND Corporation, 1994). The National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study (NTIES) found that with treatment: drug selling decreased by 78%, shoplifting declined by almost 82%, and assaults (defined as ‘beating someone up’) declined by 78%. Furthermore, there was a 64% decrease in arrests for any crime, and the percentage of people who largely supported themselves through illegal activity dropped by nearly half – decreasing more than 48 percent. Source: Center for Substance Abuse and Treatment, National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study 1997 Highlights. A recent study by researchers at Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration has indicated that 48% of the need for drug treatment, not including alcohol abuse, is unmet in the United States. Source: Woodward, A., Epstein, J., Gfroerer, J., Melnick, D., Thoreson, R., and Wilson, D., “The Drug Abuse Treatment Gap: Recent Estimates,” Health Care Financing Review, 18: 5-17 (1997). It is important to note that most drug users do not need treatment: 87 million Americans have used illegal drugs; 27 million used them last year but only 3.6 million are dependent on an illegal drug. Source: “Summary of Findings from the 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse,” Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Dept. of Health and Human Services (Washington, DC: SAMHSA, August 2000), p. 36. (“In 1999, an estimated 3.6 million Americans [1.6 percent of the total population age 12 and older] were dependent on illicit drugs.”)

  • Seejai

    Agreed. I believe Portugual’s government also has decent addiction rehabilitation programs, but even that is a hell of a lot cheaper (and more effective apparently) than what we do.

  • dlao

    Laws against murder, yet it continues. Might as well get rid of that law. Laws against drunk driving, people still do it. Might as well get rid of those laws. Laws against cheating the system, we all know how that’s going. Could just as well quit prosecuting people for that. How much longer do you want me to go on before you realize how stupid this argument is. And don’t give me any crap about how someones drug use doesn’t affect other people.

    • Rob

      But drug use isn’t the same as murder. Murder violates another’s right to life.

      Some individual getting high doesn’t do that.

      You’re comparing apples to oranges.

      • dlao

        so nobody getting high has ever committed a crime? You can’t be that stupid, or can you? I suggest you watch an episode of a real life cop show and just see what people do when they are high. Maybe go spend an evening at your local sheriff’s office and see the people brought in there and what they are brought in for. I guarantee it is an eye opening experience.

      • silverstreak

        I don’t use drugs and rarely even drink but if I want put a joint between each of my fingers,it’s nobody’s freaking business but mine.
        Now… if I decide to operate a vehicle,beat my wife or commit a robbery,while stoned,that’s when it becomes a criminal offense.
        Is it somehow a lesser crime if I kill someone with my car,beat the living crap out of my wife or rob a 7-11 if I’m just drunk?
        We have people taking up limited prison space that did nothing more than to get caught with a little too much dope on them.
        Space that could be used to house violent criminals.
        The government can stop drugs my a$$!
        The government can’t even stop a bunch of low tech backwoodsmen from making white lightning. lol
        Even by the government’s best estimates…they are only able to intercept about 10% of the drugs coming in.
        If there is a demand for a product or service,someone is going to supply that product or service for a price!
        Let me make a clarification…
        If someone is convicted of selling drugs to children,the penalty should be harsh.
        At least 10 years imprisonment for the 1st offense with no parole and progressive sentences after that all the way up to the death penaly.

  • yy4u2

    Smaller jails, smaller budgets, less political control. Look at the thousands of jobs n millions lost in budgets if this were not handled as it is now. They don’t want it to stop or end. They perpetuate it.

  • jimmypop

    why not make drugs legal?

  • toomuchguvmint

    Those who abuse alcohol and drugs tend to die at a younger rate. Perhaps the % are skewed due to a high number of fatalities among those who have abused these substances.

    • Chuck

      “Those who abuse alcohol and drugs tend to die at a younger rate”

      Keith Richards cannot be killed by conventional means.