Online Program

Decriminalization of drugs in Portugal: Lessons for public health

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Kellen Russoniello, J.D., M.P.H, The George Washington University, Washington, DC
In 2000, Portugal enacted a law decriminalizing the possession of all types of drugs within certain quantities. Instead of being arrested and introduced to the criminal justice system, drug users are referred to a civil commission that determines the appropriate sanction for each offender. In addition, the Portuguese government authorized and funded harm reduction programs for drug users, including syringe exchange and drug substitution. After over ten years of this innovative scheme, rates of drug use and addiction in Portugal have declined in almost every category, including among youth and injecting drug users, while treatment admissions have increased. Furthermore, the rate of HIV among injecting drug users, which had been among the highest in Europe, has significantly decreased. Portugal's decriminalization system, although not without shortcomings, provides important lessons for other countries trying to reduce the public health impact of drug use and suggests that decriminalization of drug use can be an impactful means of improving public health. This presentation will describe Portuguese decriminalization in detail and the impacts for public health in Portugal. It will then discuss how the lessons learned can be applied in other countries, particularly the United States. Comparisons will be made between decriminalization in Portugal and Mexico to demonstrate how different methods of decriminalization can produce very different outcomes. The presentation will conclude with recommendations on how to implement the lessons learned from Portugal into drug policy in the United States to help reduce drug use, addiction, drug use-related health consequences, and over-incarceration.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Explain the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal and the public health impacts of this system. Discuss how the lessons learned from Portuguese decriminalization could be applied in other countries. Compare decriminalization in Portugal with Mexico to demonstrate differences in models of decriminalization.

Keyword(s): Drug Addiction, Criminal Justice

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the author of a law review note published in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics which focuses on decriminalization of drugs in Portugal and Mexico. I have been actively involved in drug policy reform research and advocacy for my graduate school career.
Any relevant financial relationships? Yes

Name of Organization Clinical/Research Area Type of relationship
Students for Sensible Drug Policy Drug Policy Reform Advisory Committee/Board

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.