Last week, Mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira, stated his support for reintroducing criminal penalties for drug use in public spaces in the city. This announcement, made in a session of the Porto Municipal Assembly, represents a significant step back in Portugal’s drug policy.
Portugal ended criminal penalties for the personal use and possession of all drugs in 2001, as the country moved towards a health-centred approach to drug use. Since decriminalisation went into effect, overdose deaths and HIV infections among people who use drugs in Portugal dropped significantly, as did incarceration for drug-related offences. Reintroducing criminal penalties for drug use risks reversing these positive trends.
Naomi Burke-Shyne, executive director of Harm Reduction International, said: “It is extremely disappointing that officials in Porto are considering the criminalisation of drug use. The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that criminalisation is ineffective in reducing drug use, and only serves to put people and communities at greater risk of health and social harms.”
The mayor’s statement runs contrary to his previous support for a progressive approach to drugs. Earlier this year, at the Harm Reduction International conference in Porto, Mayor Moreira announced the opening of Porto’s first drug consumption room (also known as a safe injection site).
Ms. Burke-Shyne added: “That this statement was made by a mayor who has previously demonstrated support for a health-centred approach to drugs, is particularly concerning. Political expediency must not outweigh the safety and security of people who use drugs in Porto.”
Decriminalisation of drug use is recommended by the Joint United Nations Mission on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organisation (WHO), and the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD).
Harm Reduction International is a leading NGO dedicated to reducing the negative health, social and economic impacts of drug use and drug policy. We promote the rights of people who use drugs and their communities through research and evidence-based advocacy to help achieve a world where drug policies and laws contribute to healthier, safer societies.