How to Win a War on Drugs – by Nicholas Kristof – NYT

“Decades ago, the United States and Portugal both struggled with illicit drugs and took decisive action — in diametrically opposite directions. The U.S. cracked down vigorously, spending billions of dollars incarcerating drug users. In contrast, Portugal undertook a monumental experiment: It decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, and unleashed a major public health campaign to tackle addiction. Ever since in Portugal, drug addiction has been treated more as a medical challenge than as a criminal justice issue.

After more than 15 years, it’s clear which approach worked better. The United States drug policy failed spectacularly, with about as many Americans dying last year of overdoses — around 64,000 — as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.

In contrast, Portugal may be winning the war on drugs — by ending it. Today, the Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.

The number of Portuguese dying from overdoses plunged more than 85 percent before rising a bit in the aftermath of the European economic crisis of recent years. Even so, Portugal’s drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe — one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark — and about one-fiftieth the latest number for the U.S.”


David Lindsay

Hamden, CT

Hooray and hallelujah! Thank you Nicholas Kristof for an excellent reporting on a magnificent story. Some of us have been arguing for decriminalization and legalization for over thirty years. Our arguments have fallen on the rocks of doubt. Even my cousin George, like Nicholas, worried for decades that the idea was bad, because logically, the death rate might rise before it fell, and be therefore politically unpopular, maybe even wrong.

But the data from Portugal is game changing. It is irrefutable proof that the US war on drugs is a miserable failure compared to the Portuguese model, half-baked as it is. It still has the most important components, decriminalization for users, and a massive public health initiative to help people who are sick with the disease of addiction. And behold, it costs roughly 5% of what our complete failure of a policy costs. “$10 per citizen per year” (in Portugal), versus “$10,000 per household over a decade” in the US.

I have for years argued that the statistics and history of legalizing alcohol, after the end of prohibition, prove that legalization of addictive drugs will reduce crime, and deaths, and the destabilization of governments, especially if partnered with a Marshall plan to help addicts get off their addiction, or learn to maintain it safely. In this report of the Portuguese model, one paragraph after another, is proof of of the argument.

About David Lindsay Jr

David Lindsay is the author of "The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth- Century Vietnam," that covers a bloody civil war from 1770 to 1802. Find more about it at, also known as, David Lindsay is currently writing about Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction., as well as singing and performing a "folk concert" on Climate Change and the Sixth Extinction. He can be reached at daljr37(at)
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