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Committee Considers Portuguese Drug Model

Packie Kelly

Packie Kelly

Committee Considers Portuguese Drug Model

The Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Aodhán O Riordáin TD, addressed the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Health and Children and on Justice Defence and Equality at a meeting at Leinster House last week. He requested that the Portuguese model’s approach to drug possession to recovery from addiction and the issues of ‘legal highs’ be considered.

The Portuguese Model insists that drug use or possession thereof without authorization is illegal. This drug policy of Portugal was put in place in 2000 and became effective in July 2001. The law in Portugal changed possession of illegal substances from a criminal offense to an administrative offense in the case of a person having in his possession drugs that can last him for no longer than ten days.

“Drug abuse and addiction strikes at the heart of families and communities in cities, towns and villages the length and breadth of the country. A priority issue for this Committee, we gained a valuable insight earlier this year from Prof Joe Barry and his team on the range of recovery models available, particularly for people addicted to opiates. With the current National Drugs Strategy due to end in 2016, we are acutely aware that recovery models should be granted a much higher profile in any new strategy. We also look forward to hearing the case for the banning of so-called ‘legal highs’, drugs stimulants,” Health Committee Chairman, Jerry Buttimer TD, said on a recent presentation by Soilse, which suggested treating addiction as a health issue, rather than a criminal one.

The Minister also put the case forward to consider banning legal highs. What is ‘legal highs’? ‘Legal highs’ contain one or more chemicals that can give you the same high as an illegal substance, such as acid or cocaine. They are sold as incense, salts or plant foods to get pass the law. Clockwork Orange, Bliss and Mary Jane are a few brand names of ‘legal highs’ that are sold above the counter. These substances have caused poisoning and in some cases death and therefore, even though the name ‘Legal high’ implies a safe substance, it can be every bit as dangerous. For the moment substances that form ‘legal highs’ are not controlled under the Misuse of drugs Act 1971.

Justice Committee Chairman, David Stanton TD, said that a recent Committee Report on Portugal’s alternative approach to drug use will be raised by Members: “A Committee delegation visited Portugal recently to engage in a series of constructive and informative meetings with senior authorities there on their approach to reducing what were serious levels of drug misuse 15 years ago. As well as taking an alternative approach to drug possession in small quantities, we heard that the Portuguese system places particular emphasis on after care and social re-integration of former users of illegal substances. The Committee last week launched a public consultation on drug policy review, and in particular, if an alternative approach to the possession of small quantities of illicit drugs for personal use should be considered.”

Packie Kelly from Teach na Daoine, a Monaghan Family Resource Centre, joined last week’s sessions to represent the Committees with a report, which examines the prevalence and damage caused by synthetic drug use in County Monaghan. The treatment, possession and health risks involving drug use was also discussed by the Committees at last week’s meeting and can be viewed on the new Oireachtas Smartphone App, available for Apple and Android devices.

 

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