In an attempt to stem the growing problem of drug abuse in Portugal, with a reported one per cent of the population using hard drugs, the Portuguese government under Prime Minister Antonio Guterres has decided to adopt a new approach. This new approach is to facilitate a place, equipment and medical personnel to supervise the act of injection in a clean and clinical environment. The aim is to reduce the risks of drug addiction, namely overdose or infection from HIV or hepatitis. Under the new legislation, the Portuguese government will supply the location, small apartments called “places for programmes of clean consumption”, although the local drugs users call them “shooting houses”. Syringes, towels, filters, citric acid, cigarette lighters and aluminium foil will be provided free of charge to “those who show signs of great dependence on narcotics”. The users, however, will obtain their drugs from their suppliers. In Portugal, drugs use is not legalised but it is decriminalised. These places will be under the administration of the municipal councils but will be under the authority of the state. The Portuguese government includes in this new approach centres which provide a free bed and meal, support centres which inform the drugs users about alternative programmes, such as methadone (a substitute for heroin, supplied free to users), mobile street teams offering medical and psychological support and also centres where they can test the purity of the drugs they have bought. Only three other countries provide “places for programmes of free consumption”. Switzerland has 17, the Netherlands has 16 and there are 13 in Germany. The problem of drug addiction and its effect on society will never be completely eradicated, since addictive behaviour is one constant factor in the equation of human nature. Opium dens have existed for hundreds of years and while some drink alcohol and others consume nicotine, others prefer opiates. The question is to reduce the risk to society. By providing such services, the Portuguese government aims to reduce the burden on the National Health Service from the growing number of multi-resistant tuberculosis, HIV and hepatitis patients. By understanding who the drugs users are and what their habits are, it is hoped to provide a framework for voluntary programmes of treatment and that future generations can learn how not to enter this downward spiral in such large numbers.


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