Porto saw a huge increase in injecting drug use in the 80s; people were shocked to see young people injecting on the streets, and urged the police to intervene. The criminalisation of people who used drugs did not help, however - resulting instead resulted in a sharp increase in HIV infections and overdose deaths, because drug users had been pushed to the margins of society. The Portuguese government decriminalised drug use in 1999, and adopted a new drug strategy which aimed to provide prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services for drug users. Considerable numbers of heroin users entered treatment, and those who did not want to stop injecting were provided with sterile needles and syringes. This new approach has born fruit, and problems in relation to injecting drug use have decreased.
When the economic crisis hit Portugal, social and health services often fell victim to financial austerity measures. Drug users are not popular – so it is always easy to cut back the funding for services targeting them. But the price of this will be paid by society as a whole, in terms of death, disease, and crime. An investment in prevention, treatment and harm reduction is an investment in the future – making Porto healthier and safer. There are already programs distributing substitution medications and sterile injecting equipment to people who use drugs – the way forward is to create rooms where they can inject in a supervised and hygienic environment, rather than on the streets or in stairwells. We know, from the example of other cities. that these rooms can form the entry point for other services - detox and rehab for example. The legal framework exists in Portugal to allow the creation of drug consumption rooms, but nobody has yet used it. It's time policy makers began to use this framework – please sign our petition and ask them to do so!
Our partner in the campaign from Portugal is APDES. To learn more about the situation in Portugal, watch the movie the Drugreporter produced with APDES.
If you support our campaign for making our cities safer, please take action and sign the petition!