FROM DPNC BOARD MEMBER, AL ARSENAULT
Portugal is hardly the resounding success that the drugs liberalising lobby would have us believe
Sir, That fewer young people are trying drugs in Portugal may be the case (“Radical drug law could be imported to Britain”, April 22). But this simply reflects a Europe-wide trend, nowhere more evident than in the United Kingdom. The alarming Europe-wide increase in young people’s illicit drug use between 1995 and 2003 has come to a halt and is decreasing — in Portugal by rather less than the European average.
The picture painted by your report is less rosy overall when the data is examined fully. For according to Portugal’s Special Registry of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine, there has actually been an increase in Portugal’s drug-related deaths since decriminalisation was enacted, from 280 in 2001 to 314 in 2007. In well over half of these cases, opiates or opiates in combination with other substances (mainly cocaine or alcohol) were cited as the main substance involved.
Furthermore Portugal has been the only European country to show a significant increase in [drug-related] homicides between 2001 and 2006, by 40 per cent over a five-year period (2009 UNODC World Drug Report).
Finally, Portugal’s Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência reports that the overall prevalence of life time drug use increased from 7.8 per cent to 12.0 per cent in the period from 2001 to 2007, cocaine more than doubling and ecstasy close to doubling, with the prevalence of heroin abuse up from 0.7 per cent of the adult population to 1.1 per cent in the same period.
As to the decreases in new cases of HIV/Aids, not only is this also in line with a Western European trend but it is just as, if not more, plausible to associate this with Portugal’s annual increases in funding for treatment, detox and harm reduction than with the act of decriminalisation per se.
Portugal is hardly the resounding success that the drugs liberalising lobby would have us believe. And if it is what they are relying on to convert politicians and public to their cause it makes for a poor case.
Research Fellow, Centre for Policy Studies
Professor of Drug Misuse, Centre for Drug Misuse Research, University of Glasgow
Trustee, Cannabis Skunk Sense