Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Drug decriminalisation in Portugal

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 10 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c4554

Rapid Response:

Re:Drug decriminalisation in Portugal

Drug decriminalization in Portugal is a failure, despite various
reports published recently all over the world saying the opposite.

There is a complete and absurd campaign of manipulation of Portuguese
drug policy facts and figures, which some authors appear to have fallen

The number of new cases of HIV / AIDS and Hepatitis C in Portugal
recorded among drug users is eight times the average found in other member
states of the European Union.

"Portugal keeps on being the country with the most cases of injected
drug related AIDS (85 new cases per one million of citizens in 2005, while
the majority of other EU countries do not exceed 5 cases per million) and
the only one registering a recent increase. 36 more cases per one million
of citizens were estimated in 2005 comparatively to 2004, when only 30
were referred " (EMCDDA - November 2007).

- Since the implementation of decriminalization in Portugal, the
number of homicides related to drug use has increased 40%. "Portugal was
the only European country to show a significant increase in homicides
between 2001 and 2006."
(WDR - World Drug Report, 2009)

"With 219 deaths by drug 'overdose' a year, Portugal has one of the
worst records, reporting more than one death every two days. Along with
Greece, Austria and Finland, Portugal is one of the countries that
recorded an increase in drug overdose by over 30% in 2005".
(EMCDDA - November 2007)

The number of deceased individuals that tested positive results for
drugs (314) at the Portuguese Institute of Forensic Medicine in 2007
registered a 45% raise climbing fiercely after 2006 (216). This represents
the highest numbers since 2001 - roughly one death per day - therefore
reinforcing the growth of the drug trend since 2005.
(Portuguese IDT - November 2008)

- "Behind Luxembourg, Portugal is the European country with the
highest rate of consistent drug users and IV heroin dependents". (Portuguese Drug Situation Annual Report, 2006)

- Between 2001 and 2007, drug use increased 4.2%, while the
percentage of people who have used drugs (at least once) in life,
multiplied from 7.8% to 12%. The following statistics are reported:

Cannabis: from 12.4% to 17%

Cocaine: from 1.3% to 2.8%

Heroine: from 0.7% to 1.1%

Ecstasy: from 0.7% to 1.3%.

(Report of Portuguese IDT 2008)

- "There remains a notorious growing consumption of cocaine in
Portugal, although not as severe as that which is verifiable in Spain. The
increase in consumption of cocaine is extremely problematic." (Wolfgang Gotz, EMCDDA Director - Lisbon, May 2009)

- "While amphetamines and cocaine consumption rates have doubled in
Portugal, cocaine drug seizures have increased sevenfold between 2001 and
2006, the sixth highest in the world". (WDR - World Drug Report, June 2009)

- "It is difficult to assess trends in intensive cannabis use in
Europe, but among the countries that participated in both field trials
between 2004 and 2007 (France, Spain, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Netherlands
and Portugal), there was an average increase of approximately 20%".
(EMCDDA - November 2008)

The reality of Portuguese drug addiction seems to have been tampered
with. The statistical results seem to have been manipulated by
institutions controlled by the government.

The problem is serious and deserves consistent answers. The banner of
"harm reduction" cannot be an ideology and an end in itself. It is
extremely disturbing to promote the correct use of drugs "safely" (sic)
integrating consumption into the habits (about 70% of Portuguese addicts
scrutinized in the country are not in drug-free programs but in programs
that, while called treatments, are actually "replacements" because these
"treatments" substitute one drug for another) that is being made possible
by public institutions (such as the Portuguese IDT), who submits with the
support (sic) from the State, countless numbers of addicts to a life of

"Resounding success"? Glance at the results!

If facts are important, the Portuguese model is a mistake.

The example of Czech Republic, Mexico and Argentina that adopted the
sadly famous Portuguese drug decriminalization model should not be
followed by anyone.

Manuel Pinto Coelho

(Chairman of APLD - Association for a Drug Free Portugal and member of
International Task Force on Strategic Drug Policy)

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

18 October 2010
Manuel F. Pinto Coelho
Medical Doctor
APLD - Association for a drug Free Portugal