Why this story matters:
In 2001, Portugal became the first country in the world to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs. It was a radical policy, but it was not put in place lightly. Thanks to many years of study and analysis, as well as political courage, a new drug policy was put in place. Its new rules, accompanied by a major cultural shift to see addiction as a disease, brought tremendous results: HIV infection rates plummeted, overdose rates decreased and drug-related criminality reduced drastically.
Consumption data shows the country is now below the European average when it comes to drugs and also alcohol.
Still, there is a long way to go, mainly on youth consumption: in a 2016 study, for instance, a third of all 13-years-old claimed to have tried alcohol already. By the time they had reached 18, most of them say they had been drunk at least once during the past year.
This is why programs such as ART (the acronym for Therapeutic Answers Association) are so fundamental. In this farm, based in an isolated area, teenagers struggling with drugs or alcohol addiction are treated through psychological support and activities such as sports or crafts. But they are also supported by a team that tries to create a sense of routine, stability and security that many of them are lacking. Many of them are sent there by the court, after getting caught in small misdemeanors.
Details from the story:
- ART has 52 teenagers on their facilities, in Castro Verde, a village with less than five thousand residents. They do activities such as playing volleyball, taking photography classes and learning the Brazilian martial art Capoeira.
- Family courts are usually the ones sending teenagers to ART. Although the majority of these teens come from broken families, drug related problems also affect high-income families.
- MD, LSD and alcohol are the main drugs of choice. Heroin and cocaine seem to be residual.
- Group therapy and psychotherapy are a main feature of the program. "Consumption is not the root cause, it is the consequence", director Carla Silva explains. "They don't come here because they have an addiction. Their life ended up there."
- ART is an innovative response for an issue that lies deeper than juvenile delinquency. And one that honors the thinking behind the Portuguese drug law: treating an addict as someone who needs help, instead of seeing him or her as a criminal.