Is Portugal's drug policy a success?
By Scott Sumner
This story seems almost too good to be true:
Decades ago, the United States and Portugal both struggled with illicit drugs and took decisive action – in diametrically opposite directions. The US cracked down vigorously, spending billions of dollars incarcerating drug users. In contrast, Portugal undertook a monumental experiment: it decriminalised the use of all drugs in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, and unleashed a major public health campaign to tackle addiction. Ever since, in Portugal, drug addiction has been treated more as a medical challenge than as a criminal justice issue.
After more than 15 years, it’s clear which approach worked better. The US drug policy has failed spectacularly, with about as many Americans dying last year of overdoses – around 64,000 – as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.
In contrast, Portugal may be winning the war on drugs – by ending it. Today, the Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.
The number of Portuguese dying from overdoses plunged more than 85 per cent, before rising a bit in the aftermath of the European economic crisis of recent years. Even so, Portugal’s drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe – one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark – and about one-fiftieth of the latest number in the US. . . .
It’s not a miracle or perfect solution. But if the US could achieve Portugal’s death rate from drugs, they would save one life every 10 minutes. They would save almost as many lives as are now lost to guns and car accidents combined.
It’s a long article and well worth reading. I’ve always favored legalizing drugs, but I never expected it to lead to less drug use. Is there something here I am missing?