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Is Portland's Decriminalization of Drug Use the Right Approach?

Bret Stephens conflates Oregon’s acute problems since drug decriminalization with recent challenges faced by Portugal to argue that decriminalization is a failed concept as a general policy measure.

The United States can only wish that it were facing Portugal’s “problems.” There were 109,680 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2022. In 2021, the most recent year for which official data are available, Portugal reported 74 overdose fatalities.

Portugal successfully decriminalized drugs over two decades ago. Its approach differs significantly from Oregon’s. Focusing on effective treatment, training, and social and professional integration, Portugal emphasizes police involvement with escalating civil consequences and legal sanctions for recidivism and noncompliance with law enforcement citations to participate in dissuasion procedures.

As the U.S. suffers through the worst overdose epidemic in its history, all sides should look to Portugal with a sense of humility rather than twisting data points to support ideological agendas.

Miguel Moniz Brandon Del Pozo Traci Green Josiah Rich The writers conduct medical and policy research on opioid overdose and addiction in the U.S. and Portugal.


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