Dr. Stephanie Elias Sarabia and Dr. Kathleen Ray

Lessons Learned from Portugal’s Drug Decriminalization Policy: Educating Students on Alternative Models

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“[T]he Portuguese system is comprehensive and integrated, and so all of the agencies. . . and the principles [are] one big integrated system. Where in the United States, we really do not have a unified message. . . [T]he Portuguese system really embraces, “We’re trying to figure out what’s going on here and solve the problem. . .” [F]or us, it is about punishment for a crime, behavior, whatever it may be.”

Dr. Stephanie Elias Sarabia & Dr. Kathleen Ray

In this episode, our guests Dr. Stephanie Elias Sarabia and Dr. Kathleen Ray describe the Ramapo College study abroad program, and how exposure to Portugal’s system has heightened students understanding of the political, legal, and social context of decriminalization. They provide an overview of Portugal’s drug decriminalization policy, and compare and contrast how the US differs from Portugal in regards to approaching substance abuse. Drs. Elias Sarabia and Ray emphasize the need for social workers to challenge our current belief systems regarding drug addiction and treatment, and provide strategies for educators interested in building an international program.

Stephanie Elias Sarabia, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Ramapo College of New Jersey and Co-Convener of the Minor in Substance Use Disorders. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LCADC) with over 20 years-experience working in the community with people managing mental health, substance use, and co-occurring disorders. Dr. Sarabia is trained in various research-informed approaches to addressing substance misuse such as Motivational Interviewing and Community Reinforcement Approaches. A particular area of interest is visiting other countries and learning their perspectives and approaches to addressing substance misuse.


Kathleen Ray, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Ramapo College of New Jersey and Co-Convener of the Minor in Substance Use Disorders. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and a certified social work supervisor with over 25 years experience working in mental health care in multiple settings. Dr. Ray is a clinical researcher with the veteran population and her areas of expertise is in reintegration, PTSD, TBI and clinical assessment tools. She is also interested in the impact of drug policy on issues of social justice.

Interviewer: Caitlin Beck

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