PITTSFIELD — After a recent “learning trip” to Portugal, Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington found a lot to like about the European nation’s drug policy, much of which she believes would be of benefit locally.
Harrington and several other district attorneys from around the country, including Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins, went to Portugal in mid-May on a trip sponsored by Fair and Just Prosecution. According to its website, the nonprofit organization “brings together newly elected local prosecutors as part of a network of leaders committed to promoting a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility.”
The crux of the Portugal trip was an opportunity to examine the results of nearly 20 years of a policy decriminalizing personal possession of narcotics that emphasizes treatment over prosecution for most drug offenders.
Harrington said the results of the implementation of that policy have shown significant results.
She said that, in 2000, nearly 1 percent of the Portuguese population was using injection drugs, and the country had the highest rate of drug-related AIDS diagnoses in Europe along with “skyrocketing” overdose deaths. That year, Portugal recorded 369 deaths by overdose, Harrington said.
That number fell to 27 in 2017, after drugs were decriminalized and more public treatment options, including mobile supervised injection sites, were introduced.
“It’s been almost 20 years, so it’s really not an experiment any longer, it’s a definite success story,” Harrington said during an interview Thursday with The Eagle.
Harrington drew a distinction between decriminalization and legalization of drugs.
For example, she said, in Portugal it’s not a crime to possess personal-use amounts of drugs, while distribution and trafficking remain illegal, putting the emphasis on prosecuting the suppliers and not the end user.