Could Drug Classes be in Portugal's Future?

by: Mike Miller

It has been hundreds of years since the Portuguese were any type of world leaders. One area where Portugal has received the most praise recently has been in dealing with addiction issues. Like their fall from glory in the middle Ages and Renaissance, the country is again in need of finding a way to solve its worsening drug problems.

Portugal's famously liberal drug policy has been held up as a model for other countries - Norway is considering adopting parts of it and countries as far afield as Argentina have expressed interest. But experts warn that budget cuts and the threat of more cuts to come - combined with an increase in hard drug abuse - risk turning it into a shadow of its former self. As reported in

Quality Free Drug Clinics

One of the primary reasons for Portugal’s success in fighting the battle against drugs and addiction has been state-funded clinics. Though they are ageing, the clinics are spacious and well-kept, Lisbon's Taipas rehabilitation clinic is one of over 40 such clinics across the country, the result of Portugal's 11-year-old pioneering drugs policy which decriminalised drug use while offering free treatment and state-funded street-work programs.

It is places like this that are likely to bear the brunt of future cuts.

Meanwhile, the share of injecting drug users who sought help via the agency's centers doubled last year to 14 percent and looks set to rise further, though it still remains well below the peak of 36 percent registered in 2000.

Sir Richard Branson

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use as well as possession for personal use in an attempt to try and tackle a serious heroin problem that had caused an outbreak of HIV/Aids among drug users. Huge open-air drug markets were a common sight at the time in some areas. Sir Richard Branson is one of many who have pointed to Portugal as a beacon of hope in the battle against drugs.

Since then, the rate of injected drug use has halved to about 0.5 percent of the population, below levels in Britain and Italy. The number of new HIV cases has also declined - the share of injecting drug users fell from about half of all new cases in 2002 to 17.5 percent last year.

Overall drug use in Portugal is now below the European average. But without funding and more drug classes the problem can only get worse.