Hardly Anyone Dies From Drug Overdose In Portugal


After Portugal decriminalized the use of all illegal drugs 14-years-ago, it has a much lower drug overdose mortality rate than most other countries.

Portugal decided to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use as a public health concern in 2001. This means getting caught with illegal drugs could land you in a treatment referral program rather than with jail and a criminal record. Although the drugs such as weed, cocaine, heroin and others are still illegal, the feared increase in their use has not materialized, and health related drug issues have improved considerably.

The statistics show that Portugal has a drug overdose mortality of 3 per million compared to E.U’s average rate of 17.3/Million.

The Independent reports:

Among Portuguese adults, there are 3 drug overdose deaths for every 1,000,000 citizens. Comparable numbers in other countries range from 10.2 per million in the Netherlands to 44.6 per million in the UK, all the way up to 126.8 per million in Estonia. The EU average is 17.3 per million.PortugaI_drugs-portugal

Perhaps more significantly, the report notes that the use of “legal highs” – like so-called “synthetic” marijuana, “bath salts” and the like – is lower in Portugal than in any of the other countries for which reliable data exists. This makes a lot of intuitive sense: why bother with fake weed or dangerous designer drugs when you can get the real stuff? This is arguably a positive development for public health in the sense that many of the designer drugs that people develop to skirt existing drug laws have terrible and often deadly side effects.

Drug use and drug deaths are complicated phenomena. They have many underlying causes. Portugal’s low death rate can’t be attributable solely to decriminalisation. As Dr. Joao Goulao, the architect of the country’s decriminalization policy, has said, “it’s very difficult to identify a causal link between decriminalisation by itself and the positive tendencies we have seen.”

Portugal- Edibles

Medical Cannabis

Still, it’s very clear that decriminalisation hasn’t had the severe consequences that its opponents predicted. As the Transform Drug Policy Institute says in its analysis of Portugal’s drug laws, “The reality is that Portugal’s drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas. Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while the dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialise.”


In Pakistan a worker can roll a joint with one hand using an ordinary cigarette, in a matter of seconds.

As US state legislatures debate with issues like marijuana legalisation and decriminalisation in the coming years, Portugal’s 15-year experience may be informative.

Source: Washington Post

Edmondo Burr

BA Economics/Statistics
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