The consequences of the economic crisis are threatening the continuity of the integrated intervention system that characterises the “Portuguese Model”. Read what our local partner APDES is doing to preserve the country's achievments in the field of drug policy.
“I believe professionals are trying their hardest to overcome this crisis. They are the ones who are going the extra mile so that people won’t feel its effects” (PWUD).
The Portuguese law on illegal drugs was significantly amended in 2001. After the advent of decriminalisation, an innovative comprehensive approach was implemented, combining a legal framework which distinguishes drug use from the commercial drug trade, with an intervention strategy incorporating free access to Prevention, Treatment, Social Reintegration, and Harm Reduction services. The Portuguese Model of Drug Policy (PMDP) became a model of best practice. Now, however, with Portugal suffering from the effects of the European economic and financial crisis, there are concerns for the future of the integrated intervention model that characterises the PMDP.
Among harm reduction outreach teams working at a community level, reports began to emerge of a perceived lack of investment in services aimed at drug users. It was necessary to understand whether austerity measures had dictated these developments, and if so, what the longer-term trend might be. Were the perceived changes caused by economic issues, or by other factors – political ideology, for instance? Recently, APDES presented the results of a research project on the impact of austerity measures on the PMDP, at the “First European Conference on addictive behaviours and dependencies", held in Lisbon. This project aimed to contribute to a better understanding of these questions.
The main goal of “The austerity measures and the Portuguese model of drug policy: an exploratory mixed-method research” was, on the one hand, to understand how the current austerity measures might be affecting the lives of people who use drugs, as well as the operation of related services – and on the other hand, to analyse whether, and in what ways, practical implementation of the PMDP has been changing.
The conclusions indicate a significant retreat by the State, in terms of its duty of care towards vulnerable people, with this retreat to some extent mitigated by the efforts of Harm Reduction teams. This has been called the 'Cushion Effect’, in a scenario where professionals have been acting as 'stabilisers', off-setting reduced response-levels in the area of drug dependence. The 'Cushion Effect' is a vital part of understanding the various perceptions of the existence and influence of austerity measures in the drugs sphere. Research participants generally agreed, in fact, that the welfare state was in disarray. Another conclusion was that drug-focussed interventions are not being practised as intended – with Prevention and Reintegration work seen to be suffering from a particular lack of investment.