Raul Freitas

A step



It’s epic, the battle for control of what people can do with their own bodies. Today, society is bent on polarization, everyone wants it their way, or no way. Residing among the top contenders are abortion and drugs. Who knows where the arguments will lead.

When it comes to abortion, most people thought that, for the most part, the issue had been settled, but the in the U.S., the religious right decided that old wounds needed to be opened. As for drug policy, even in the States, Nixon’s War on Drugs, introduced in 1971 and backed by the UN, is being reconsidered because it did nothing to inhibit drug production, trafficking and consumption, (which was its mission).

Mostly, it resulted in filling jails with end users. Basically, we’re seeing that throwing people in jail for using drugs is counterproductive. Those who are addicted to so-called hard drugs, not only continue to use once they are back on the streets, but could even consume while incarcerated, since there is usually a supply available in jail.
Back in 2001, Portugal introduced legislation decriminalizing small quantities of drugs for personal use. If you are caught, there is no jail time or record of the incident and the stigma that comes with it, although whatever you’re caught with at the time will be confiscated. Instead, a fine, or community service, are some of the options that a person could be sanctioned with. The approach is more health oriented. There are programs available for those who choose to try and kick the habit, so to speak.

As a result, for the most part, Portugal is looked upon as a leader in the prevention of drug-related deaths and HIV transmission. Also, decriminalization’s removing of the stigma that comes with drug addiction allows addicts to be able to speak freely of their problem to professionals without fear. The numbers speak for themselves, Portugal went from being a bad example to one of the best, in just a few short years.

The public money saved from less arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations goes to health-related programs. Of course, I’m not suggesting that this is a silver bullet, a cure-all, but it seems to me that trying to assist an addicted person to taking a healthier path is better than locking them up so that it looks like we’re doing something about the problem.

I might add that Portugal isn’t the only country in the world to work this way, there are other countries, even just cities, that also have their own version of how to tackle the issue without resorting to making criminals of those who are addicted.

And now there’s a Canadian Province. As of January 31, British Columbia began a 3-year pilot program decriminalizing the most heavily used illicit drugs. Their proximity to the Asian continent makes them an easy mark for drug runners and traffickers. Plenty of supply combined with the same poverty, which is plaguing most large Canadian cities, has created a serious enough problem to force the B.C. government to finally break ranks and take a different approach, and it’s about time. Illness is illness, whether you’re addicted to heroin, coke, alcohol, sex, or gambling. People have the right to treatment.

The fact that a select group decided that booze and roulette were legal doesn’t make people who are addicted to these any less ill or less destructive than those who need a hit of crack.

They all deserve to be listened to and cared for. We all make choices, but no one chooses to become addicted. For those who fall into that hole, it’s largely up to them to climb out, although it’s always easier if there’s a helping hand at the top.

This kind of policy is one, but we could do more. Getting to know people in this kind of situation by volunteering goes a long way to removing the pre-conceived notions many of us carry.

It’s not for everyone, but Canadians are well known for lending a hand. Volunteering induces understanding, understanding induces compassion, compassion induces self-respect. Hard to argue against that.
Fiquem bem.

Raul Freitas/MS

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