Supervised drug-use site with compartments, Source: Porto Municipality

Porto to implement supervised drug-use site

Porto to implement supervised drug-use site

This might be Portugal’s first non-mobile structure to offer such services

Twenty years after decriminalizing hard drug use, Portugal is now also turning to the provision of centres where users can safely consume drugs under the supervision of qualified medical and social personnel. The first such centre started in Lisbon in 2019 under the form of a mobile unit.

Porto will likely be the first city in the country to set up a permanent structure for the implementation of this specialized service. This became clear after it was agreed by City Council to launch a procedure to select a non-profit entity that would manage and operate the facility.

Supervised consumption sites (SCS) already exist in ten other countries around the world

The facilities where drug users can safely inject or smoke illicit substances are known as supervised (drug) consumption sites (SCS). They have already been a part of the social services in some Western European and North American countries directed at helping to reduce addiction by taking out of the underground scene. Furthermore, providing a safe space for drug consumption is meant to reduce the cases of HIV or Hepatitis C transmission and also prevent death from overdosing.

The structure will be located in the western part of the city, near the statue of Albino Aroso, next to Bairro Novo da Pasteleira, in Lordelo do Ouro. 

It will have 90 square meters [of space] and capacity for up to ten individual stations with physical separation between the space for smoked consumption and the space for injected consumption, including ventilation conditions and vents for smoked/inhaled consumption. Additionally, there will be a set of services: support for safer consumption, access to screening for infectious diseases, access to basic health care and referral to other social responses”, explained the Councilor for Housing and Social Cohesion, Fernando Paulo.

The initiative, however, is turning into a source of friction between local and national governments

This program will respond to a public health problem, even if, as Porto’s authorities stated that this type of service does not fall in the competence of the Municipality. “We are going to pay 650,000 euros, which were the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. And we are going to have an insane job in a matter that was not our responsibility. We are, once again, assuming and paying for something that is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health,” stressed Rui Moreira, the mayor of Porto.

The local administration is of the opinion that the national authorities failed to include the provision of supervised drug usage in the decentralization of the country’s health system. Nevertheless, they also believe that such services have been long overdue.

The SCS will, as a first phase, last for one year on an experimental basis. The monitored space will operate ten hours a day, seven days a week. The permanent team will have two nurses, a psychosocial technician, a peer educator, a cleaning assistant and a watchman. The staff will also be supported by part-time professionals, such as a psychologist, a social worker and a doctor.

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