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Europe: Portugal Approves Safe Injection Sites, Moves to Start Prison Needle Exchange Programs

In an embrace of harm reduction principles, the Portuguese government has approved the establishment of safe injection sites for drug users and is working to have needle exchange programs in prisons by 2008, Medical News Today reported on August 30. The moves come as part of a package of measures designed to "reduce the consumption of drugs and diminish their harmful social and health effects," the Portuguese government said.

Portugal now follows the lead of Australia, Canada, Germany, and Switzerland, where working safe injection sites are in place. The sites have been shown to help slow the spread of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS, reduce overdoses, reduce criminality, help drug users achieve more stable lives, and help some of them connect with treatment and/or counseling services.

While, according to the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Abuse, Portugal's drug use rates are low by European standards, the country does have an injection drug-using population, mostly around heroin. About one-third of a sample of treatment patients in Portugal reported drug injection as their preferred route of administration.

Portugal decriminalized drug possession in 2000, although drug sales remain illegal. But even if Portugal is not ready to take the giant step of ending drug prohibition, the actions of its government since then show that it continues to move in a progressive direction on drug policy issues.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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