COCAINE IS now Portugal’s ‘preferred’ drug, according to a new report that highlights an overall increase in drug use but a decline in the use of heroin. The latest official data makes for grim reading.
Figures from the National Institute of Administration reveal that consumption of drugs increased by 44 per cent among young people between 1999 and 2003. The number of 16 year olds, who admitted taking drugs at least once, also increased from 12.3 per cent to 17.7 per cent over the same period. The report indicates that eight per cent of Portuguese use drugs of some kind and that half of all the country’s drug addicts (about 40,000 people) are enrolled in drug rehabilitation programmes, treatments that cost the state 55 million euros a year.
But the report does contain some good news – experts believe that heroin is becoming ‘unfashionable’ because it is seen as leading to psychological and physical deterioration. “Heroin is associated with the degradation of hardened addicts such as the arrumadores (car park attendants),” says João Goulão, the president of the Instituto da Droga e da Toxicodependência (IDT), the institute of drugs and drug addiction.
The number of people seeking help for heroin addiction has dropped from nearly 10,000 in 1999 to little more than 5,000 in 2003. But, there has also been a corresponding increase in the number of cocaine addicts, as well as the use of ‘recreational’ drugs such as ecstasy.
Portugal is the most liberal country on drugs
Manuel Pinto-Coelho, president of the Associação para Portugal Livre de Drogas (APLD), an association that fights for a drugs free Portugal, considers that the national anti-drugs strategy has failed because all official data indicates increased demand and availability.
Pinto-Coelho also criticises the decriminalisation of consumption, a law in place since 2001. He says that the change has resulted in a nine per cent increase in drug related crime and a fall in prosecutions of drug traffickers. Pinto-Coelho charges that the new law, which differentiates between the legal consumption of drugs and the illegal trafficking of drugs, is being flouted. “How is it possible to decriminalise a person who carries in his/her pocket enough drugs for a 10-day consumption? Someone who is merely a consumer should not be carrying around enough doses to last that number of days. He/she should only carry enough for one or two days,” he says. Pinto-Coelho also believes that Portugal now has the most liberal drugs policy in the EU, following the law’s amendment, because it is now easier for traffickers to pretend to be consumers.