Drug Policy of Portugal

The current drug policy of Portugal was put in place in 2000, to be legally effective from July 2001. The EU had in effect forced the Portuguese government to make radical measures to reduce Portugal’s record high incidence of HIV/AIDS. In 1999 Portugal had the highest rate of HIV amongst injecting drug users in the European Union.

This led to the adoption of a National Strategy for the Fight Against Drugs in 1999. A vast expansion of harm reduction efforts, doubling the investment of public funds in drug treatment and prevention services, and changing the legal framework dealing with petty drug offences were the main elements of the policy thrust.

A nationwide syringe exchange program has been ongoing since 1993; drug users can exchange used syringes at pharmacy counters across the country. They get a kit with clean needle syringes, a condom, alcohol and a written message motivating for AIDS prevention and addiction treatment. From 1994 to 1999, pharmacies delivered around 3 million syringes annually.

There are specialized treatment facilities (public and certified private therapeutic communities), detoxification units, outpatient facilities and day centers. Methadone substitution treatment is today widely available in Portugal, as other substitute opiates.

In July 2001, Portugal became the first European country to formalize decriminalization of drug possession for personal use, when they introduced Law 30/2000. The law decriminalized the use, possession and acquisition of all types of illicit substances for personal use, defined as being up to ten days supply of that substance.

Drug addicts were then to be aggressively targeted with therapy or community service rather than fines or waivers. Even if there are no criminal penalties, these changes did not legalize drug use in Portugal. Possession has remained prohibited by Portuguese law, and criminal penalties are still applied to drug growers, dealers and traffickers.

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