Recently TED.com featured a fascinating talk by journalist Johann Hari. In many ways, it reflects the research and practices we’ve been developing for years at Life Model Works. According to Hari:
In the year 2000, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe. One percent of the population was addicted to heroin, which is kind of mind-blowing, and every year, they tried the American way more and more. They punished people and stigmatized them and shamed them more, and every year, the problem got worse.
And one day, the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition got together, and basically said, look, we can’t go on with a country where we’re having ever more people becoming heroin addicts. Let’s set up a panel of scientists and doctors to figure out what would genuinely solve the problem. And they set up a panel led by an amazing man called Dr. João Goulão, to look at all this new evidence, and they came back and they said, “Decriminalize all drugs from cannabis to crack, but” — and this is the crucial next step — “take all the money we used to spend on cutting addicts off, on disconnecting them, and spend it instead on reconnecting them with society.” And that’s not really what we think of as drug treatment in the United States and Britain.
So they do do residential rehab, they do psychological therapy, that does have some value. But the biggest thing they did was the complete opposite of what we do: a massive program of job creation for addicts, and microloans for addicts to set up small businesses. So say you used to be a mechanic. When you’re ready, they’ll go to a garage, and they’ll say, if you employ this guy for a year, we’ll pay half his wages. The goal was to make sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning. And when I went and met the addicts in Portugal, what they said is, as they rediscovered purpose, they rediscovered bonds and relationships with the wider society.