In 2000 Portugal reformed its drug policy, it decriminalized drug use and introduced a new harm reduction-oriented drug strategy. However, the country is in a very difficult economic situation right now that affects all aspects of life, including harm reduction. Austerity measures applied to fulfill international commitments are being used to cut down the budget spent on harm reduction services. In 2010 there were 49 harm reduction programs funded by the government but a new assessment conducted by the National Harm Reduction Network (R3) indicates that things are going bad. The R3 contacted 30 harm reduction projects to understand the impact of the economic crisis on their services. Seven projects are now facing the cancellation of their public funding – two of them are able to provide a minimum level of services by voluntary work of their staff members. Thirteen projects are suffering from the systematic delays of their public funding and this causes several problems: for instance, salary delays and limited access to services. Some service providers are even facing bankruptcy and as a consequence, a final closure of services.
In addition to the budget cuts, the government decided to close down the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction of Portugal (IDTP), which has been coordinating public services related to drug use for several years. This endangers the future of the drug treatment system in general.
APDES and R3 initiated several actions to protect the role of harm reduction policies. A meeting with the parliamentary health commission and the members of parliament have been organized. NGOs attempt to use mass media resources to stimulate public discussion on this subject, they held media events and conferences to raise awareness on the future of harm reduction in the country. Civil society organizations sent a petition with 4000 signatures to the Parliament that explains the importance of harm reduction. APDES uses its Facebook page and its professional list serve to communicate with the public and with the harm reduction community.
APDES participated in the campaign of the European Drug Policy Initiative (EDPI) to raise awareness on the Prague Declaration on the principles of effective drug policies. It organized several meetings to discuss the declaration and the future of harm reduction in Portugal. In December 6 it organized a session at the Instituto Superior de Miguel Torga of the University of Coimbra for postgraduate students from the Design and Communication department. On the 14th of December APDES presented the declaration to 46 MA students at Psychology and Deviant Behaviour Department of the Oporto University. On the 2nd January APDES held another public presentation on the declaration and harm reduction in general at the Instituto Superior de Miguel Torga.
From the report of Marta Sophia Pinto, APDES
Posted by Peter Sarosi