Supervised

In 2001, under the leadership of former prime minister António Guterres – nowadays UN’s Secretary-General – Portugal became the first country to decriminalize the possession and consumption of drugs.


Twenty years later, the first controlled drug consumption room – also known as the ‘chuto’ (shot) room – opened in Lisbon. In six months nearly 900 drug addicts – 200 of whom attend the premises daily – were registered, three times as much as expected!



‘These numbers were surprising because we had initially assumed that around 300 consumers would circulate in this neighborhood”, says Elsa Belo, technical director of Ares do Pinhal, an association dedicated to the recovery of drug addicts and manager of the premises, located in the Vale de Alcântara area. ‘Users come here to smoke or inject drugs under the supervision of a health team, who provide them with sterilized material and help them in case of an ‘overdose’.


Reducing damage is important. On the one hand by the distribution of aseptic material to prevent disease transmission and on the other by supervised consumption. ‘It is these conditions and the acceptance without judgment, that make you return’, says a 47-year-old user. I feel very safe and comfortable here’.


Most users are men (85%), one third are homeless. The average age is 44 years (range 20-70). In three out of four cases drugs are inhaled. After consumers enter the space for the first time, the health team begins a process of rapprochement, that may lead to screening tests (HIV, hepatitis, tuberculosis) or simple nursing procedures (e.g. changing dressings).


As soon as you pass through the main entrance there is café Conforto, where you can watch TV, have a coffee, and keep your pets. There are also changing rooms, laundry services, a cloth bank, and areas for psychosocial care and clinic consultations. Besides users, there are also homeless visitors, who only come to take a shower, wash their clothes or look for a dignified place to eat.



Upon entering the consumption room, the nurse asks what drug is going to be used, what drugs are taken in the last 24 hours, and what regular medication users are on (e.g. methadone).


‘The room is always full’, explains Inês Pereira, a psychologist, who together with a nurse monitors consumption from a glass space from which they observe who is smoking drugs, on one side, and who is injecting, on the other. All the material used by consumers is provided within the space and substances they bring from the street are registered.


There can be up to 10 people in the two rooms at the same time. Users have 30 minutes to inject, 40 minutes to smoke, and another 20 minutes to ‘recover’.


Control of the type and quality of substances that users are going to take is not yet being carried out, but Ares do Pinhal is finalizing a protocol on this. A necessary move considering for instance the continuous increase in cannabis potency (i.e. the percentage of THC – the psychotropic component of the plant) in the last couple of years, increasing the risk of psychotic effects.


In view of its success, the City Council plans the construction of a second supervised consumption room this year in Lumiar, close to the Cruz Vermelha neighborhood.


Enjoy your week          Aproveite a sua semana                (pic Sapo/Públic)















Majority

Absolute majority doesn’t mean absolute power’ (António Costa)

Against all odds, Portugal’s centre-left Socialists won a straight parliamentary majority in last week’s general election, securing a strong new mandate for Prime Minister António Costa. It is for the first time the Socialists have won an absolute majority after six years in power. This means the country will have a stable government to oversee the application of the EU pandemic recovery package of 16.6 billion euros.


The striking victory didn’t remain unnoticed abroad as was highlighted in the international press headlines.

 ‘Socialists win surprise outright majority (Guardian)
‘Antonio Costa, the shrewd negotiator’ (El País)
‘Prime Minister with few obstacles and more longevity’ (El Mundo)
‘António Costa builds its legend’ (La Vanguardia)
‘The indestructible socialist, who united the left’ (El Español)
‘António Costa’s revenge’ (Le Monde)
‘Portugal promotes the Costa model’ (La Republica)
‘An overwhelming majority, animosity with Chega’ (Folha de São Paulo)
Portugal’s Socialists win an Outright Majority in Parliament (New York Times)
‘António Costa’s impressive victory’ (Politico)

The Socialist Party (PS) smashed its former far-left allies, the Left Bloc (BE) and the Communists (PCP) both losing more than half of their seats in parliament. The centre-right fared barely better. The second-largest Social-Democratic Party (PSD) gathered only 30% of the vote (against the Socialists’ around 42%).
The People and Nature party (PAN) lost three of its four MP’s and the Christian Democrats (CDS) lost all its five MP’s in parliament, including its leader. 


Despite the coronavirus pandemic, turnout was on track to beat 2019’s record low participation of 49%.


But the election results also showed a less pleasant surprise.
The far-right Chega (Enough) emerged as the third-largest parliamentary force, making a big leap from just one MP to 12 in the 230-seat parliament.



Costa – PM since 2015 – has won plaudits for turning around the country’s 2011-2014 debt crisis, reversing unpopular austerity measures, decreasing the budget deficit, and overseeing one of the most successful Covid vaccination programs in Europe. Still, Portugal remains western Europe’s poorest country. His biggest challenge will therefore be to promote economic growth.


The PM declared in his victory speech: ‘An absolute majority doesn’t mean absolute power. It doesn’t mean to govern alone but to govern with and for all Portuguese’.
But there is also a warning. The last time the Socialists had an absolute majority was with José Socrates in 2005 and that administration was marked by corruption and authoritarianism.



Enjoy your week    —      Tenha uma semana fixe        (pic Público/Sapo)