Decriminalization of Drugs Could Help Addicts Recover

Could decriminalizing drugs help addicts recover? This has been the case in Portugal. When Portugal decriminalized drug use and possession, it put the resources it had used prosecuting and incarcerating addicts into public health and addiction rehabilitation. The result provides evidence that a good solution to addiction and the crime associated with it may be decriminalization. Doing so may not be as risky as some originally thought.

Portugal passed a law in 2001 to become the first country to decriminalize personal drug use.  That does not mean drugs are legal, but since abuse is seen as a public health issue, people are not arrested or prosecuted for personally using or possessing drugs in limited quantities.  Instead, treatment might be recommended, small fines given, or in some instances nothing at all is done.

The result of passing the law:

ü  serious drug use is down significantly, particularly among young people;

ü  the burden on the criminal-justice system was eased;

ü  the number of people seeking treatment has grown;  

ü  the rates of drug-related deaths and cases of infectious diseases have fallen.

The news isn’t all good. Small changes in penalties for personal possession and use of social drugs does not appear to have had any significant effect on the rates of use. The on-going argument is whether social drug use is down or has a group of addicts with no incentive to change their behavior been created.

In our country, treatment and therapy could become a lot more appealing to those who need help the most, by removing the negative stigma that often accompanies the label of drug addict.  Better support for families who suffer because of addiction, along with community wide prevention programs and information centers, are a few of the many possible programs that could be created by decriminalizing drugs and freeing up resources. Residential treatment and detox facilities are important and often unattainable because of cost. That could change with drug decriminalization.

Nothing concerning addiction or substance abuse is ever simple. Removing the fear of prosecution or arrest is one incentive to promote a change in the laws and encourage addicts seeking a way out.  It really comes down to finding a better way of helping people get the treatment they need.

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