Supplied Qld Govt

Greens: make drug addiction a health issue, not a crime

GREENS Leader Richard Di Natale has called for Australia to follow Portugal's lead and start treating drug addiction as a health issue rather than a crime.

The Victorian senator is on a self-funded tour of the southern European country to learn about its health-centred approach to drugs and bring his findings back to Australia.

Portugal decriminalised drugs in 2001 and shifted funds spent prosecuting users into rehabilitating them.

Senator Di Natale said the initiative had been hugely successful, although he acknowledged the use of drugs had not decreased.

"What has been made really clear in Portugal is that criminal penalties for using drugs didn't deter people from using them, but it did deter them from getting treatment," he said.

"Portugal's health approach meant fewer cases of HIV, fewer deaths caused by overdoses and it reduced crime."

Drugs would remain illegal but their use would be decriminalised if Australia were to duplicate Portugal's system, meaning users who were caught would not be subject to criminal penalties.

They would instead face a health panel that would direct them to treatment and help with housing and employment.

Drug dealers still face criminal charges under the Portuguese system.

Sen Di Natale said drug use had neither increased nor decreased since Portugal introduced its health-focused system, allaying fears decriminalisation would lead to a surge in addiction.