36% increase in high-school age drug use in Portugal

Australia21 and the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) have been telling politicians and the media of the ‘success’ of Portugal’s decriminalisation of all drugs.[i],[ii]  Their claim is that decriminalisation will not increase drug use. But here is what is really happening in Portugal.

Implemented in 2001, drug use in Portugal is reported, as with every other country in the European Union according to the requirements of the REITOX reporting network controlled by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.[iii]These reports are readily available on the worldwide web and are referenced below.

According to the first 2007 national survey in Portugal after decriminalisation, Portugal’s overall drug use rose, with a small rise in cannabis use but a doubling of cocaine and of speed and ice use as well for those aged 15-64.[iv] For those under the age of 34, use of speed and ice quadrupled. Admirably, heroin use decreased from the highest level in the developed world at 0.9% in 1998 to 0.46% by 2005, however much of these decreases already predated decriminalisation, moving to 0.7% by 2000, the year before decriminalisation.[v] It is important to note that use of all other illicit drugs in Portugal, other than heroin, had been well below European averages before decriminalisation.[vi]

In the second Portuguese national survey in 2012 overall drug use decreased 21% below 2001 levels for those aged 15-64. This is what prompts the campaign by Australia21 and NDARC. What they fail to mention is that the decreases are not as significant as for various other European nations at that same time.[vii]

Italy – Opiates                    0.8% (2005)                         0.48% (2011)

Spain – Opiates                  0.6% (2000)                         0.29% (2012)

Switzerland – Opiates     0.61% (2000)                      0.1% (2011)

Italy – Cocaine                    1.1% (2001)                         0.6% (2012)

Italy – Speed/Ice               0.4% (2005)                         0.09% (2012)

Austria – Speed/Ice         0.8% (2004)                         0.5% (2012)

They also fail to mention the alarming 36% rise in drug use by high-school-age children 16-18 years old from 2001 to 2011, accompanied by a smaller rise in drug use by 13-15 year olds off 2001 levels.[viii]

By comparison Australia’s Tough on Drugs policy, without decriminalisation of all drugs running interference as in Portugal, decreased overall drug use from 1998 to 2007 by 39%.[ix]

Decriminalisation has not worked for Portugal, whereas Tough on Drugs, which maintained criminal penalties as a deterrent to drug use, did.

We encourage all Australian Parliamentarians to check each of the references cited below, and also see Drug Free Australia’s evidence in ‘Why Australia Should Not Decriminalise Drugs’ indicating that drug use normatively increases after decriminalisation, whether in Australia or overseas at:   http://drugfree.org.au/images/13Books-FP/pdf/Decriminalisation.pdf.

Source:  Gary Christian , Secretary Drug Free Australia  Feb.2017

[i] https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/ndarc/resources/Decriminalisation%20briefing%20note%20Feb%202016%20FINAL.pdf

[ii] https://ndarc.med.unsw.edu.au/sites/default/files/ndarc/resources/Australia21%20background%20paper%20July%202012.pdf

[iii] http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/695/EMCDDA_brochure_ReitoxFAQs_EN_326619.pdf

[iv] See REITOX report 2014 graphs (p 36) comparing surveys of drug use in the previous 12 months in 2001, 2007 and 2012  http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/996/2014_NATIONAL_REPORT.pdf

[v] See World Drug Report  2004 http://www.unodc.org/pdf/WDR_2004/Chap6_drug_abuse.pdf

[vi] See United Nations’ World Drug Report 2004 tables for drug consumption pp 389-401 http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/WDR-2004.html

[vii] Figures below are taken from United Nations’ World Drug Report drug consumption tables from various years from 2000 through 2013 https://www.unodc.org/wdr2016/en/previous-reports.html

[viii] Compare Portugal’s REITOX National Report 2008 for school age children’s use in the last month (p 23) http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/522/NR_2008_PT_168550.pdf with 2014 (p 37)  http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/system/files/publications/996/2014_NATIONAL_REPORT.pdf

[ix] See Table 2.1 (p 8) –  ‘Any illicit’ comparing 1998 with2007 http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=10737421139&libID=10737421138

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