In a Lisbon gymnasium, people whose bodies have been ravaged by drugs are trying to put their lives back together.
They've formed two lines and laugh as they take turns throwing a ball to their partners.
Drug addicts who've forgotten how to have fun are being given a lesson in how to play again.
Portugal was once Europe's worst country for drug misery and deaths. Now, it’s a public-health success story with a system that's been copied by its European neighbours.
In 1999, use of heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs was rampant. Approximately 100,000 Portuguese, or one per cent of the population, reported an addiction to hard drugs.
Anyone caught with a “personal” amount of drugs — up to 10 days’ worth of a substance — can be ordered to appear before a health department official like Nuno Capaz. He's the sociologist who heads up the Lisbon commission.
"When I wake up in the morning, I'm not thinking, ‘How many fines am I going to apply?’ So it’s easy to focus on the health issues and the help we can provide," Capaz said.
There are no gowns or gavels in the commission’s bare-bones office and police and prosecutors aren't involved.
Instead, the commission's function is to identify potential problem drug users early on and either provide them with information about treatment or quickly get them access to the health-care system.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction estimates Portugal had between 27,000 and 34,000 high-risk opioid users in 2012 and roughly half of them were involved in some type of treatment program. That suggests a far higher take-up rate than in Canada.