Daphne Bramham: Decriminalization is no silver bullet, says Portugal’s drug czar

Vancouver Sun, updated: September 14, 2018
Goulão [Portugal’s director-general of drug policy] “…..Portugal’s success isn’t because of decriminalization. It’s because, in 2001, his country made a commitment to providing whatever its citizens need to be as healthy and as fully engaged in society as possible.”

“Decriminalization is not a silver bullet,” he said. “If you decriminalize and do nothing else, things will get worse.
“The most important part was making treatment available to everybody who needed it for free. This was our first goal.”

Underlying the policies is a national conviction that addiction is a chronic, recurring disease best dealt with through treatment not jail.

These days, Lisbon is no Vancouver. There are no cannabis shops, let alone one on almost every corner. The smell of marijuana doesn’t permeate downtown streets, or any streets for that matter. No fentanyl has yet been detected in the illicit drugs. So there’s no need for take-home naloxone kits, pop-up treatment tents or specialized training and trauma counselling for first-responders.

Goulão still can’t get over what he saw when he visited Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside last fall. “I was shocked. What I saw took me back to the end of the 1980s and 1990s in Lisbon with the public visibility of drug use and nuisance,” he said.
“What shocked me was that there are lots of responses but they do not seem to communicate. They’re not centred on what citizens need. … Citizens should be able to move through the system and get what they need.”

It’s got worse since his visit, with the overdose deaths only moderating slightly in the spring as B.C. entered its third year of a public health emergency.

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