Here are the most recent data available from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which address drug-related deaths in Portugal. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001, and these factually accurate data can be used to prove that Portugal’s policy has been a complete success or a complete failure, assuming the analyst has no intellectual integrity. EMCDDA is one of those annoying organizations that provides full information without political spin, so clearly you can’t rely on the chart the way they print it up
If you have been commissioned to do a study for the Glibertarian Institute, then the chart below this paragraph is for you. Note that it is very important to start your analysis in 2001 to give the false impression that the new policy caused the drop in drug-related deaths, rather than coming into force several years after drug-related deaths were already in decline. Note also that you need to cut the data series off when it looks the best rather than go too far forward in time. Finally, do not mention that Portugal has expanded methadone maintenance and other addiction treatment, as that would present a highly plausible rival explanation: You can’t have that (what would your donors say?).
If on the other hand you are trying to land a job at the Draconian Foundation, you want to edit differently, as I have done in the chart below this paragraph. By adding back in the 1999-2000 data and deleting 2002-2006, you can use the remaining data to show that the effect of decriminalization was to reverse a pre-existing decline in drug-related deaths.
Now some advice for both parties. If you get confronted with the whole data series and your ideology or intellectual capacities forbid you to acknowledge that life is complicated, there are a number of rhetorical strategies I would suggest. If you work at the Glibertarian Institute, note that the population of Portugal has been rising and therefore the increase in number of deaths in recent years is due to increasing population size. Do not however acknowledge that this would also make the pre-decriminalization drop in number of deaths all the more impressive. If you got that job you wanted at the Draconian Foundation, just do the reverse.
Another handy strategy is to look around at other countries until you find somewhere else that had a similar change under different policies. But remember to confine your comparative work to that subsection of the data series that you wish to discount. So Glibertarians, point out that drug-related deaths have also been rising in Austria and Denmark in recent years, so what’s going on hardly reflects a failure of Portuguese policy. But don’t be so infra dig as to point out that drug-related deaths were dropping in Bulgaria and France from 2001-2003, which could make it look like Portuguese policy wasn’t the causal factor. Draconians can again just do the reverse.
Final words of wisdom to both sides: Describe the policy as legalization rather than decriminalization — no sense stopping at one misrepresentation when your ideological agenda is at stake!