The Factual Picture of Portuguese Drug Policy

This letter is from Dr. Pinto Coelho from Portugal – his English is not perfect but the gist of the paper is very clear .. i.e. the media claims that decriminalisation in Portugal has been successful are simply not true.

The factual picture of Portuguese drug policy
Reaching out English Parliament and David Cameron

The Executive Office of the President Barak Obama Drug Control Policy, Director Gil Kerlikowske, in a letter to a member of the International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy and Drug Watch International, is peremptory: “Our analysts found that claims that decriminalization has reduced drug use and had no detrimental impact in Portugal significantly exceed the existing scientific basis. Because this conclusion largely contradicts prevailing media coverage and several policy analyses in Portugaland the United States, my staff has heavily documented the sources of the data and information contained in this working paper. Please feel free to use this document in part or in whole to help strengthen your own efforts to advance a more honest discussion of decriminalization in Portugal and of the drug policy choices with nations are grappling today.”
This report is a consequence of a complete absurd campaign of an unacceptable manipulation of Portuguese drug policy facts and numbers, rose on the 33 pages of a so original as misleading book written by a writer/lawyer, Glenn Greenwald, fluent in Portuguese (on the eve of two important elections in Portugal), for the American “libertarian” think-tank Cato Institute –  a long time advocate of drug legalization.
That book, underestimating the readers’ understanding and suggesting the contrary to what the numbers show clearly and unequivocally, has been carried out unconscientiously and naively by some usually responsible national and international press all over the world that boosting the proliferation of the Portuguese “good news” are dangerously distorting the projection of the reality: “The Guardian” -“Britain looks at Portugal´s success story over decriminalizing personal drug use” (September 5th 2010), “The Economist” – “The evidence from Portugal since 2001 is that decriminalization of drug use and possession has benefits and no harmful side-effects” (August 27th 2009) and the Portuguese magazine “Visão” – “Portugal inspira Obama” (Maio 7, 2009) are just a few of the publications that mimicked the phenomena.
It was so effective that irreparable damages are already there – Czech Republic, Mexico and Argentina copied the Portuguese “good example” and did decriminalize drugs too…
That is the razing power of an attractive fallacy!
But lets go to the data (and his sources) and to that high representative USA official above letter: “Drug-induced deaths in Portugal that decreased from 369 in 1999 to 152 in 2003, climbed to 314 in 2007 – significantly more than the 280 deaths recorded when decriminalization started in 2001”. (EMCDDS, Statistical Bulletin 2009, Table DRD-2.)
“…the report´s claims of Portuguese drug legalization success, however it trumpets a decline in the lifetime prevalence rate for the 15-19 age group from 2001 to 2007, while discounting a larger lifetime prevalence increase in the 15-24 age group and ignoring the substantially larger lifetime prevalence increase in the 20-24 age group over the same period. (Greenwald, p.14.) Furthermore, the report emphasizes decreases in lifetime prevalence rates for the 13-18 age group from 2001 to 2006 and for heroin use in the 16-18 age group from 1999 to 2005, but once again downplays increases in the lifetime prevalence rates for the 15-24 age group between 2001 and 2006, and for the 16-18 age group between 1999 and 2005”. (Greenwald, pp. 12-14.)
“… despite an assertion in the Cato Institute report that increases in lifetime prevalence rates for a general population are “virtually inevitable in every nation”, EMCDDA data indicate that countries have been able to achieve decreases in lifetime prevalence rates, including Spain, for cannabis and ecstasy use between 2003 and 2008.” (EMCDDA, Statistical Bulletin 2009, Table GPS-1.)
To this painful data we must add:
“There is a notorious growing consumption of cocaine in Portugal, although not as severe as that which is verifiable in Spain. The increase in consumption of cocaine is extremely problematic”. (EMCDDA Executive Director, Wolfgang Gotz, Lisbon, May 2009.)
“While amphetamines and cocaine consumption rates doubled in Portugal, cocaine drug seizures have increased sevenfold between 2001 and 2006, rating Portugal the sixth highest in the world.” (World Drug Report, June 2009.)
“Behind Luxembourg, Portugal is the European country with the highest rate of consistent drug users and IV heroin dependents”. (Portuguese Drug Situation Annual Report, 2006)
“Portugal keeps on being the country with the most cases of injected drug related AIDS (85 new cases per one million of citizens in 2005, while the majority of other EU countries do not exceed 5 cases per million) and the only one registering a recent increase. 36 more cases per one million of citizens were estimated in 2005 comparatively to 2004, when only 30 were referred. It is the only country recording a recent increase. 703 newly diagnosed infections, followed from a distance by Estonia with 191 and Latvia with 108 reported cases.” (EMCDDA, November 2007.)
“The highest HIV/AIDS mortality rates among drug users are reported for Portugal, followed by Estonia, Spain, Latvia and Italy; in most other countries the rates are low” (EMCDDA – November 2010).
“In Portugal, since decriminalization has been implemented in July 2001, the number of drug related homicides has increased by 40%. It was the only European country with a significant increase between 2001 and 2006.” (World Drug Report, June 2009.)
This is the factual picture of Portuguese drug policy.
Unfortunately for drug dependent’ and their extended families and friends, a lie, as convenient as it could be, no matter how many times affirmed, no matter how insistently repeated, would never become the truth. So, “resounding success” seems a gross overestimate. It is rather simple and easy to grasp the reality of the facts, with one look at the real figures, the official figures.
Extraordinarily Mr. Greenwald managed to picture it otherwise and most of the world press bought it. Subsequently some governments disgracefully did too (USA fortunately didn’t) and others are pathetically wondering to “experiment the potential benefits of innovations like Portugal’s.” (“The Observer” Sunday 5 September 2010.) …
Manuel Pinto Coelho
Medical Doctor, Chairman of the Association for a Drug Free Portugal – member of World Family Organization and World Federation Against Drugs
Member of International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy
Portugal Delegate of Drug Watch International
Portugal representative of European Cities Against Drugs
P.S.  I am political independent – I am not enrolled to any political party.
        I do not practice or have any links to any drug dependence facilities.


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