Capitol Hill Briefing: U.S. Drug Courts and the Portugal Model

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

10:00 am*
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2226

3:30 pm
Dirksen Senate Office Building, 562

See the announcement on Constant Contact.

Developed in response to the deluge of drug arrests that began to overwhelm courts and fill jails and prisons in the 1980s, drug courts are now a 20-year-old criminal justice phenomenon. With many backers in the criminal justice system, drug courts have developed substantial political rapport, which risks providing them immunity from honest, critical analysis. Two new groundbreaking reports provide such critical analyses, examining drug courts' effects on individuals, communities and the criminal justice system, recommending improvements in drug court practices and urging more health-centered approaches to drug use.

Portugal offers important lessons on health-centered policy responses to drug use. In 2001, Portugal abolished criminal penalties for personal possession of small amounts of illicit drugs and invested heavily in its public health infrastructure. Instead of being arrested, people found in possession of these substances are referred to regional "committees for the dissuasion of addiction," which may order treatment and/or impose warnings or administrative sanctions. Ten years later, Portugal's drug use rates remain among the lowest in Europe - and fatal overdose from opiates has been cut nearly in half, new HIV/AIDS infections in people who inject drugs have fallen by two-thirds, teen drug use has declined, and the number of people in treatment has significantly increased.


*Coffee and pastries will be served.  To RSVP, please visit Please contact Emily Brooks at with questions or concerns.