The U.S., which has waged a 40-year, $1 trillion war on drugs, is looking for answers in tiny Portugal, which is reaping the benefits of what once looked like a dangerous gamble, reports the Associated Press. White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske visited Portugal in September to learn about its drug reforms, and other countries have taken interest, too. “The disasters that were predicted by critics didn’t happen,” said University of Kent Prof. Alex Stevens, who has studied Portugal’s program. “The answer was simple: Provide treatment.”
Drugs in Portugal still are illegal, but Portugal changed the law so that users are sent to counseling and sometimes treatment instead of criminal courts and prison. The switch from drugs as a criminal issue to a public health one was aimed at preventing users from going underground. Other European countries treat drugs as a public health problem, too, but Portugal stands out as the only one that has written that approach into law. The result is that more people tried drugs, but fewer ended up addicted. Between 2000 and 2008, there there were small increases in illicit drug use among adults, but decreases for adolescents and problem users such as drug addicts and prisoners; drug-related court cases dropped 66 percent.