Dependents are patients, not criminals | TIME ONLINE


This report is part of the focus on drugs in everyday life. To this end, ZEIT ONLINE has published exclusive results of the Global Drug Survey, the world's largest drug survey, in which some 35,000 readers participated.

“Growing” means in Portuguese “Crescer” – this is the name of the institution in the southeast of Lisbon, which strives with streetwork and mediation to reintegrate addicted people. Psychologist Marta Correia and mentor Rui Coelho are part of a 40-member team that looks after drug addicts. Every morning, they make appointments, provide people with therapy places and answer social questions. In the afternoons, they move on to the north-west, board a white van, and drive through the problem areas of the Portuguese capital. Always at the same time, always following the same paths. The addicts should be able to rely on the pickup truck with the clean needles and the friendly street workers.

In their backpacks Marta and Rui carry plastic bags, which they distribute on their routes. The bright green kits, which are easily torn open, include two syringes with integrated needles, two aluminum pommels, two filters, two ampoules of distilled water: all for cooking heroin, In addition, two disinfectant wipes and a condom. Acid is contained in two small extra pouches to prevent addicts from dissolving the substance in the juice of a lemon to heat it – an often-used method that allows people to get infections or block their blood vessels through the pulp.

The street workers distribute syringes on the streets of Lisbon.
© Gonçalo Fonseca

Marta says that most of the women and men affected are aware of the organization thanks to street workers. If you want to be clean or have medical questions, then come to the facility. The team listens when the addicts talk about their lives and their addictions and talk about whether they have a network of friends, family or colleagues who could possibly provide support. Usually they do not have that.

In the eighties and nineties, Lisbon was Europe's drug market, with used heroin syringes everywhere in the city. At that time, Portugal counted 350 overdose deaths every year and, with more than 1,000 new HIV infections a year, had one of the highest rates of people carrying the AIDS virus. Until the government around the then Prime Minister António Guterres – today secretary general of the United Nations – decided to radically renew the drug policy: From 2001, users were no longer imprisoned. With the resources saved, the state funded therapeutic measures and facilities such as Crescer. The ownership and consumption in Portugal is not allowed today. who with drugs gets caught, comes in government support, rarely pays a small fine or gets community service imposed. But no one has to go to jail because he's taking drugs. Instead, there are so-called Abraten commissions. There, the victims are heard by a lawyer and two representatives from the Ministry of Health, which classify the search risk.

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