Given the possibility of a fresh approach to the opioid crisis, I would recommend serious attention to what has been accomplished in Portugal.

Early in the 1990s, a full 1 percent of Portugal’s population was hooked on heroin. Eventually, Portugal’s government decided (over some strong protests) to take a novel approach: It decriminalized all drugs.

“Starting in 2001, possession or use of any drug – even heroin – has been treated as a health issue, not as a crime,” NPR reported last year.

“We are dealing with a chronic relapsing disease, and this is a disease like any other,” one official told NPR. “I do not put a diabetic in jail, for instance.”

NPR noted that “drug dealers are still sent to prison. But anyone caught with less than a 10-day supply of any drug – including heroin – gets mandatory medical treatment. No judge, no courtroom, no jail.”

The result? Portugal’s drug-induced death rate has plummeted to five times lower than the European Union average.

The reason? According to one sociologist, “If I come across someone who wants my help, I’m in a much better position to provide it than a judge would ever be.”

The cost? I gather that this costs less than incarceration.

George Dole