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Decriminalization not legalization of drugs
Published On: 08-27-2015 in Category: Drug Addiction
Illegal drugs are a major problem in the United States. Addiction not only negatively affects the body, but also triggers crime, violence and the spread of HIV. Infants are exposed to drugs when pregnant women use them, accidents happen when people drive and operate heavy machinery under the influence – these are just a few potential dangers of drug abuse.
Portugal decriminalized possession of drugs for personal use in 2001 and there is now evidence regarding the consequences of this legislation. According to the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, both opponents and advocates have sometimes misrepresented the facts to suit their opinion. In fact, the situation has improved since decriminalization took place. HIV infections and drug-related deaths have been reduced and drug use did not increase. Although drug possession is no longer a criminal offence, it remains a violation punishable by fines or community service.
A regional panel, consisting of legal, health and social workers, review cases and decide the penalty. Most cases presented to this panel are suspended. Those dependent on drugs are urged to seek treatment but they not penalized if they decide to avoid rehabilitation. The goal of decriminalization is to improve the health of the population, particularly those using illegal drugs intravenously.
In the years prior to decriminalization, rates of HIV, AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis B and C were increasing at an alarming rate and law enforcement and health authorities reached a consensus that criminalization was a contributing factor. The government agreed that a humane legal system would improve the situation. At the same time, Portugal enlarged and improved other social programs including allocation of funds, improving prevention measures and the introduction of a guaranteed minimum income.
Dr. Joao Goulao, the so-called “architect” of Portugal’s decriminalization reform said, “It’s very difficult to identify a causal link between decriminalization by itself and the positive tendencies we’ve seen. It’s a total package. The biggest effect has been to allow the stigma of drug addiction to fall, to let people speak clearly and to pursue professional help without fear.” Other countries are following suit and moving away from criminal prosecution for possession of drugs for personal use.
Some have claimed that drug-related, infectious diseases rose after decriminalization but the evidence proves otherwise. New HIV cases in Portugal among injectable drug users are higher than the European average but between 2001 and 2012 HIV rates fell from 1,016 to only 56. During the same time period, new AIDS cases in people who used injectable drugs fell from 568 to 38 – a dramatic drop. Rates of hepatitis B and C have also fallen despite more people seeking treatment.
Reductions in health care budgets in Portugal have caused people to fear there may be an increase in HIV infections, a situation that occurred in Greece when drug treatment and harm reduction programs were withdrawn due to the country’s financial problems. Portugal’s National Health Service (NHS) underwent a 10 percent budget cut and the Independent Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction was absorbed by the NHS.
Some harm reduction services are experiencing partial closure or funding delays which has affected services. The challenge for Portugal is to ensure that gains are not lost due to economic restraints.
While Portugal is seeing some benefits following decriminalization, drug abuse continues to be an epidemic around the world. Many who struggle with addiction need assistance getting sober. The Kansas City Drug Treatment Rehab Center is a great option when it comes to seeking treatment. If you would like further information on drug treatment centers in your area, please call us at any time.