Portugal's harm reduction services are in danger
Portugal is increasingly suffering from the austerity measures applied to all services provided by the State. Social protection is being reduced across the board, affecting vulnerable populations like drug users the most. Cuts in support for those who do not have any kind of income, and modifications in the criteria for support, are leaving socially-excluded drug users in a critical situation. In a scenario of scarce resources, stigma and prejudice tend to become more prevalent, and to influence social protection formats, creating a distinction between “deserving” and “undeserving” cases. Drug users are clearly being included in the second group, as interventions specially directed to them are being financially asphyxiated.
Uncertainty on the future of treatment and harm reduction services is a reality and, as time goes on, more and more harm reduction projects are preparing for the possibility of having to shut down – even those which are running methadone programs. Funding from the Government is now regularly late, workers do not get their salaries on time, and material resources to adequately help clients are almost non-existent.
At the same time, extra investment is being made in police forces, and this makes us fear that a security model for addressing marginality is being implemented. After several years of a consistent policy that put Portugal at the centre of the international debate on drug policy, because of its perspective of drug use as a health problem and not a legal or security one, recent changes may alter the structural principles of this approach. Monitoring studies on this would be very useful, in order to understand more profoundly the consequences of this kind of shift in comprehensive policies that have proven their efficacy.
In addition, in order to reduce costs, the Government has decided to abolish the national institute which was responsible for monitoring the drug phenomenon (IDT) and replacing it with a small public body with less competences, particularly in the area of treatment care services. The law is being drafted without consulting drug users or civil society organizations working in the field.
Civil society keeps applying pressure to the Government, to be heard in that legislative process and to defend the need to preserve a policy with a proven track-record. For now, dialog is the strategy, but within a short time it may be necessary to adopt stronger and vigorous action with the help of our foreign partners, to denounce what is going on…
Report by APDES