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27 December 2010

Earth continues to struggle to defeat Sin & Evil / but a few places surrender to Satan & Sanity

The Associated Press (US newswire)
Monday 27 December 2010

News from planets that 
don't shoot themselves 
in the foot anymore

In this Nov. 10, 2010 picture, a drug addict who identified himself as "Joao," holds used needles to exchange for new ones in Lisbon's Casal Ventoso

by Barry Hatton And Martha Mendoza, Associated Press

LISBON, Portugal -- These days, Casal Ventoso is an ordinary blue-collar community — mothers push baby strollers, men smoke outside cafes, buses chug up and down the cobbled main street.

Ten years ago, the Lisbon neighborhood was a hellhole, a "drug supermarket" where some 5,000 users lined up every day to buy heroin and sneaked into a hillside honeycomb of derelict housing to shoot up. In dark, stinking corners, addicts — some with maggots squirming under track marks — staggered between the occasional corpse, scavenging used, bloody needles.

At that time, Portugal, like the junkies of Casal Ventoso, had hit rock bottom: An estimated 100,000 people — an astonishing 1 percent of the population — were addicted to illegal drugs. So, like anyone with little to lose, the Portuguese took a risky leap: They decriminalized the use of all drugs in a groundbreaking law in 2000.


EDITOR'S NOTE — This is part of an occasional series by The Associated Press examining the U.S. struggles in its war on drugs after four decades and $1 trillion.


Now, the United States, which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in tiny Portugal, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries — including Norway, Denmark, Australia and Peru — have taken interest, too.

"The disasters that were predicted by critics didn't happen," said University of Kent professor Alex Stevens, who has studied Portugal's program. "The answer was simple: Provide treatment."


Drugs in Portugal are still illegal. But here's what Portugal did: It changed the law so that users are sent to counseling and sometimes treatment instead of criminal courts and prison. The switch from drugs as a criminal issue to a public health one was aimed at preventing users from going underground.

Other European countries treat drugs as a public health problem, too, but Portugal stands out as the only one that has written that approach into law. The result: More people tried drugs, but fewer ended up addicted.

Here's what happened between 2000 and 2008:

• There were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users, such as drug addicts and prisoners.

• Drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.

• Drug-related HIV cases dropped 75 percent. In 2002, 49 percent of people with AIDS were addicts; by 2008 that number fell to 28 percent.

• The number of regular users held steady at less than 3 percent of the population for marijuana and less than 0.3 percent for heroin and cocaine — figures which show decriminalization brought no surge in drug use.

• The number of people treated for drug addiction rose 20 percent from 2001 to 2008.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, one of the chief architects of Portugal's new drug strategy, says he was inspired partly by his own experience of helping his brother beat addiction.

"It was a very hard change to make at the time because the drug issue involves lots of prejudices," he said. "You just need to rid yourselves of prejudice and take an intelligent approach."

Officials have not yet worked out the cost of the program, but they expect no increase in spending, since most of the money was diverted from the justice system to the public health service.

In Portugal today, outreach health workers provide addicts with fresh needles, swabs, little dishes to cook up the injectable mixture, disinfectant and condoms. But anyone caught with even a small amount of drugs is automatically sent to what is known as a Dissuasion Committee for counseling. The committees include legal experts, psychologists and social workers.

Failure to turn up can result in fines, mandatory treatment or other sanctions. In serious cases, the panel recommends the user be sent to a treatment center.

Health works shepherd some addicts off the streets directly into treatment. That's what happened to 33-year-old Tiago, who is struggling to kick heroin at a Lisbon rehab facility.

Tiago, who requested his first name only be used to protect his privacy, started taking heroin when he was 20. He shot up four or five times a day, sleeping for years in an abandoned car where, with his addicted girlfriend, he fathered a child he has never seen.

At the airy Lisbon treatment center where he now lives, Tiago plays table tennis, surfs the Internet and watches TV. He helps with cleaning and other odd jobs. And he's back to his normal weight after dropping to 50 kilograms (110 pounds) during his addiction.

After almost six months on methadone, each day trimming his intake, he brims with hope about his upcoming move to a home run by the Catholic church where recovered addicts are offered a fresh start.

"I just ask God that it'll be the first and last time — the first time I go to a home and the last time I go through detox," he said.

Portugal's program is widely seen as effective, but some say it has shortcomings.

Antonio Lourenco Martins, a former Portuguese Supreme Court judge who sat on a 1998 commission that drafted the new drug strategy and was one of two on the nine-member panel who voted against decriminalization, admits the law has done some good, but complains that its approach is too soft.

Francisco Chaves, who runs a Lisbon treatment center, also recognizes that addicts might exploit good will.

"We know that (when there is) a lack of pressure, none of us change or are willing to change," Chaves said.


Worldwide, a record 93 countries offered alternatives to jail time for drug abuse in 2010, according to the International Harm Reduction Association. They range from needle exchanges in Cambodia to methadone treatment in Poland.

Vancouver, Canada, has North America's first legal drug consumption room — dubbed as "a safe, health-focused place where people inject drugs and connect to health care services." Brazil and Uruguay have eliminated jail time for people carrying small amounts of drugs for personal use.

Whether the alternative approaches work seems to depend on how they are carried out. In the Netherlands, where police ignore the peaceful consumption of illegal drugs, drug use and dealing are rising, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Five Dutch cities are implementing new restrictions on marijuana cafes after a wave of drug-related gang violence.

However, in Switzerland, where addicts are supervised as they inject heroin, addiction has steadily declined. No one has died from an overdose since the program began in 1994, according to medical studies. The program is credited with reducing crime and improving addicts' health.

The Obama administration firmly opposes the legalization of drugs, saying that it would increase access and promote acceptance, according to drug czar Kerlikowske. The U.S. is spending $74 billion this year on criminal and court proceedings for drug offenders, compared with $3.6 billion for treatment.

But even the U.S. has taken small steps toward Portugal's approach of more intervention and treatment programs. And Kerlikowske has called for an end to the "War on Drugs" rhetoric.

"Calling it a war really limits your resources," he said. "Looking at this as both a public safety problem and a public health problem seems to make a lot more sense."

There is no guarantee that Portugal's approach would work in the U.S. For one, the U.S. population is 29 times larger than Portugal's 10.6 million.

Still, an increasing number of American cities are offering nonviolent drug offenders a chance to choose treatment over jail, and the approach appears to be working.

In San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin neighborhood, Tyrone Cooper, a 52-year-old lifelong drug addict, can't stop laughing at how a system that has put him in jail a dozen times now has him on the road to recovery.

"Instead of going to smoke crack, I went to a rehab meeting," he said. "Can you believe it? Me! A meeting! I mean, there were my boys, right there smoking crack, and Tyrone walked right past them. 'Sorry,' I told them, 'I gotta get to this meeting.'"

Cooper is one of hundreds of San Franciscans who landed in a court program this year where judges offered them a chance to go to rehab, get jobs, move into houses, find primary care physicians, even remove their tattoos. There is enough data now to show that these alternative courts reduce recidivism and save money.

Nationally, between 4 and 29 percent of drug court participants will get caught using drugs again, compared with 48 percent of those who go through traditional courts.

San Francisco's drug court saves the city $14,297 per offender, officials said. Expanding drug courts to all 1.5 million drug offenders in the U.S. would cost more than $13 billion annually, but would return more than $40 billion, according to a study by John Roman, a senior researcher at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center.

The first drug court opened in the U.S. 21 years ago. By 1999, there were 472; by 2005, 1,250.

This year, new drug courts opened every week around the U.S., as states faced budget crises exarcebated by the high rate of incarceration on drug offenses. There are now drug courts in every state, more than 2,400 serving 120,000 people.

Last year, New York lawmakers followed counterparts across the U.S. who have tossed out tough, 40-year-old drug laws and mandatory sentences, giving judges unprecedented sentencing options. Also, the Department of Health and Human Services is training doctors to screen patients for potential addiction, and reimbursing Medicare and Medicaid providers who do so.

Arizona recently became the 15th state in the nation to approve medical use of marijuana, following California's 2006 legislation.


In Portugal, the blight that once destroyed the Casal Ventoso neighborhood is a distant memory.

Americo Nave, a 39-year-old psychologist, remembers the chilling stories his colleagues brought back after Portuguese authorities sent a first team of health workers into the Casal Ventoso neighborhood in the late 1990s. Some addicts had gangrene, and their arms had to be amputated.

Those days are past, though there are vestiges. About a dozen frail, mostly unkempt men recently gathered next to a bus stop to get new needles and swabs in small green plastic bags from health workers, as part of a twice-weekly program. Some ducked out of sight behind walls to shoot up, and one crouched behind trash cans, trying to shield his lighter flame from the wind.

A 37-year-old man who would only identify himself as Joao said he's been using heroin for 22 years. He has contracted Hepatitis C, and recalls picking up used, bloody needles from the sidewalk. Now he comes regularly to the needle exchange.

"These teams ... have helped a lot of people," he said, struggling to concentrate as he draws on a cigarette.

The decayed housing that once hid addicts has long since been bulldozed. And this year, Lisbon's city council planted 600 trees and 16,500 bushes on the hillside.

This spring they're expected to bloom.

- 30 -


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      RobertG 5 minutes ago Report Abuse

          This solution is too sensible and too humane in the US. Any solution other than criminalization, arrest and imprisonment is not to be considered. The government must find ways to fill those prisons they are building. "The Economic Elite v. the People of the United States" reports that (paraphrasing) "our prison population is 2.3 million people, more people incarcerated than any other nation in the world. This is about 700 per 100,000 citizens. China has 110 per 100,000, France has 80 per 100,000, Saudi Arabia has 45 per 100,000. The prison industry is thriving and expecting major growth over the next few years. A recent report from the Hartford Advocate titled “Incarceration Nation” revealed that “a new prison opens every week somewhere in America. Many of these are for drug offenses, mostly marijuana use or possession. By the way, it is sickening when the US must go to countries like Portugal and Peru to learn how to humanely treat and deal with a human problem.

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      Stephen 46 minutes ago Report Abuse

          Decriminalizing use makes sense - but only if you continue hard time for those who sell. Get people into treatment, not a prison cell.

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      Cusanus 50 minutes ago Report Abuse

          The only drugs I've ever seen being used or sold were by a bunch of punks running a so called research company next to the DOJ, really just a telemarketing sweat shop. The DEA ignored my story, and it was a weird one for sure. How do you work five years as a supervisor when you have to work five years to get to be a supervisor, and how do you manage to buy a ritzy pickup and a farm on $7/hr? Ok, cover blown, these are rookie FBI retards trying to set up a reverse sting. Smart move, Einstein, I don't do drugs, but how about all the kids working at that place? Have you managed to get them hooked? I doubt any of them are stupid enough to be taken in. Sad, USA, really really sad.

      Dan L
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      Dan L 59 minutes ago Report Abuse

          Something peculiar happens to drug addicts that causes them to be so hopelessly addicted to drugs, the same with the alcoholic. Psychiatry has classified it as a mental disorder for decades now, and its time society gets educated as well.

          Harsh penalties are of no avail, because essentially the addict no longer has a choice to use or not. for the addict, whether or not to use is not an issue. For the addict it becomes a question of getting, using, and the means to get and use more.

          This is where the public health approach comes in. We need treatment and rehabilitation, not criminal penalties. Do we put people in jail for other psychoses? No. Its clearly a matter of getting correct information out that is key to changing policy.

      JG in Canada
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      JG in Canada 1 hour ago Report Abuse

          It is good to experiment elsewhere. I did notice that there was no mention of any rise in "driving under the influence", something that is scary and could lead to more death. I spent some time in places that have benevolent attitudes about drug addiction and I know that in the morning the gutter near my hotel was filled with discarded needles. I am very suspicious of "success" stories, and programs need to be judged on times scales of 10 or more years.

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      Me 1 hour ago Report Abuse

          In the US they give a slap on the wrist. Maybe if they gave life behind bars for using and the dealth penalty for selling it would change things. Death at least for selling to minors.

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      almostnuts 1 hour ago Report Abuse

          no way. judges will miss their bribes, equipment mfging will suffer. the intelligence groups will not have an excuse to develop xray, listening, restraining, disabling devices, comm companies will suffer with their subsidies for being good citizens, confiscation of land and other assets would halt causing financial hardship for counties and the rigged bidding system, helicopter sales would plummet, and the sociopaths masquerading as concerned citizens would be out of work. lets keep building those private prisons and filling them up. we should be number one at something, and if we run out of criminals we just need to make some new laws, we can't let something like that pesky constitution and bill of rights keep us from being free. the war on drugs, one hundred dollar bills stuffed into a boxcar till full, make a train eleven miles long, and thats how much money we have spent losing this war. america has gone from being the home of the free and land of the brave to the home of the fee and land of the knave. support your local militia, or read the gulag and see your future america. matter of fact read all the oppressors from the last seventy five years, a club and a jail cell would have saved millions of lives with the simple act of clubbing a lunatic when they first took power. read mila 18 in the warsaw ghetto, there was twelve, or some ugandans that were invited to dinner as the main course, the list is endless and unless we wake up we are going to see acts you thought unbelievable in this country by your own people. stalin starved over twenty million people in relocation camps, but fdr thought stalin was a great man, go figure. wake up, wake up, god almighty please wake up america. you can't be first but you can be next.

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      Adolf Hitler
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      Adolf Hitler 1 hour ago Report Abuse

          Legalize gambling, prostitution, heroin, marijuana, crack,cocaine,meth and other drugs. Then everyone will be happy.

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      gracie 2 hours ago Report Abuse

          "You just need to rid yourself of prejudice and take an intelligent approach."
          If that is what is required, then this policy has no chance of working in the US.

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      ZZZ 2 hours ago Report Abuse

          This article has a misleading beginning. If you read through it, there is nothing new. The article makes it sounds like Portugal has legalized drugs. All they are doing is decriminalizing drug users.
          California has done the same thing. There is no need to go to Portugal to learn anything "new". If you look at California, the success is questionable at best. So Lindsay Lohan got caught using drugs and go to rehab. I am not sure what kind of message we are trying to teach our kids. You be the judge.

          Here this is the most important quote buried inside the article.
          "Drugs in Portugal are still illegal. But here's what Portugal did: It changed the law so that users are sent to counseling and sometimes treatment instead of criminal courts and prison."

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


PatFromCH said...

During the time of Elisabeth I, England had very strict laws on the poor and homeless. It was considered to be a crime to be poor or on the road looking for work. There were harsh punishments, these laws stayed more or less in power up to the 1870s in one form or another untill the negative effects of the industrial revolution forced people to think differently and the idea of Poor Houses or Work Houses was abandoned for good. People have to realize that poverty was not a crime but a side effect of social change. When oh when will politicians finally realise that drug addiction is not a crime, but a disease that must be treated not with jailing people in, but give them help and advice ? I would BET that a metho clinic costs less per year than runnig a jail. Portugal's approach is most interesting, being one of the poorst courties in Europe.

I am just a Nicotine Junkie but unless I find some help or advice I worry on how I can really get off the stuff. Sheer will power is not enough. Same with hard core drugs I guess. This is what politicians must realize, oherwise they will loose their "war on drugs". The idea of "Out of sight, out of mind" won't solve the problem.

CH has been famed for its metho programs and liberal view on drugs. Unfortunetly the party which attracts most voters are right-wing loonies who want to be tough on crime and reduce the health system to a joke that only people with good incomes can afford. We'll see how things turn out in the fall of 2011...

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