How Do Other Countries Deal With Opioid Addiction?

How Do Other Countries Deal With Opioid Addiction

How Do Other Countries Deal With Opioid Addiction?

Facing addiction is a very personal issue. When you or someone you know is in the grips of addiction, it can seem like an all-consuming battle that is completely limited in it’s scope to your own little world. Bearing this in mind, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that drug abuse and addiction is a universal problem. To that end, we’ll take a look at how other countries deal with opioid addiction and whether or not their methods have proven results. We will also take a quick look at some numbers from the United States for a little comparative information. 

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Success in Dealing With Opioid Addictions

There are two standout examples of global locations with success in handling an addiction crisis. They are Portugal and Switzerland; we will take a brief look at both.



Though all drugs are a problem, Portugal’s main opioid hurdle continues to be heroin.  Through a variety of practices, Portugal has worked very hard to decriminalize addiction.  For starters, most of their programs are offered to addicts free of charge.  Their main methods of treating addicts include a lot of art therapy.  Addicts are encouraged to work through their demons using activities like ceramics, sculpting, and painting. In addition to this, they also participate in the form of “play therapy.” This is where games and physical activity is offered as an attempt to sort of re-boot the addicts’ ability to have free-form playtime and be creative and active without any agenda or stress inducers. Using these methods, addicts in Portugal are treated as sick people who need healing and not criminals who need punishment.


The results in Portugal are notable. Before the practice of decriminalization, 100,000 people—roughly 1 % of the population—were on hard drugs.  That number has dropped by more than half, to approximately 50,000.  The overall number of overdoses is also down to only 30 per year. The number of people dying in Portugal from some form of drug abuse is four times lower than the overall European average. According to a report from The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the number of people imprisoned for law violations fell from 44% in 1999 to 24% in 2013.



The main focus in Switzerland is harm reduction. When dealing with drug addicts, Switzerland tries to minimize the health and societal consequences of drug use and abuse. According to an article on, Switzerland implements what is known as HAT, a heroin-assisted treatment program. The use of HAT means that addicts are treated with medically controlled doses of heroin to fight addiction and cravings. Medical oversight eliminates a lot of risky behaviors and practices that have the potential to harm both the addict and other members of the general population. One such method is needle exposure. Switzerland also has a needle distribution program, where clear, clean needles are distributed; this cuts down on the spread of infections and diseases among the addicted population, caused by dirty needles. 


In 1991, drug deaths in Switzerland stood at 405 per year.  This number had a notable tumble, coming down to just 152 per year in the present day. 

Role Of Population

It should be noted that in both Portugal and Switzerland, population size lends an advantage. In Portugal, there are only 10 million people. Switzerland is an even smaller amount, coming in at just 8 million people. In both cases, a smaller population is much easier to manage when it comes to getting a grip on addiction, or any other social problems. 

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United States: A Brief Look at How We Deal with Opioid Addiction

In contrast to Portugal and Switzerland, the United States still has a numbers crisis on its hands when it comes to opioid addictions. Statistics from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University show that 40 million Americans are suffering from addiction (which is a bigger number than both the entire combined populations of Switzerland and Portugal). Many believe that more money needs to be invested in the prevention and treatment of addiction and NOT into consequences of addiction—things like crimes and hospitalizations. To further address the deeper issues that contribute to the epidemic, the United States needs more training in addiction science. Such training results in more empathy towards addicts and also a better understanding of how to treat addiction at its root cause instead of a cursory alleviation of the symptoms. 

If you or someone you know struggles with opioid addiction—or any other type of substance problem–know that help is just a phone call away. Reaching out to us here at SpringBoard Recovery is an easy first step on a path to sobriety and overall healthy living. 

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