Group urges shift from anti-drug strategy shaped by Duterte’s ‘exaggerated’ view
The “punitive approach” based on an exaggerated assessment of the country’s drug problem during the Duterte administration should now give way to more humane, less stigmatizing and proportionate strategies that treat substance addiction more as a health issue rather than a criminal menace.
Drug reform advocates made this call as they noted that the prevalence of drug use in the country was statistically lower than—or even less than half of—the global average when then President Rodrigo Duterte was waging his “war on drugs.”
In a recent media fellowship, the Drug Policy Reform Initiative (DPRI) cited a 2019 survey conducted by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) showing that only 2.05 percent (1.68 million) of the Filipino population were into drug use. The DDB survey was based on face-to-face interviews with 9,341 Filipinos age 10 to 69 across all the 17 regions.
The World Drug Report released in 2022 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), on the other hand, placed the global average at 5 percent.
The UNODC study also noted that only 11 percent of “persons who use drugs” worldwide may be considered “problematic” or whose condition leads to physical, mental and social damage. The vast majority, 89 percent, were not deemed problematic, it noted.
To justify his brutal anti-drug campaign, Duterte, in his public pronouncements, claimed that there are 7 to 8 million drug users in the country in 2019.
Yet three years earlier, in his first State of the Nation Address delivered in July 2016, Duterte cited a much smaller figure—3.7 million.
DDB chief resignation
In November 2017, then DDB chief Dionisio Santiago was forced to resign on Duterte’s orders after saying that the sprawling drug rehabilitation facility built in Nueva Ecija was a mistake and that the government should have instead pursued a community-based program to help users end their addiction.
Duterte then said Santiago should have discussed the matter with him instead of making his disapproval of the project known in the media.
‘Out of proportion’
In an Inquirer interview on Friday, Kristina Mendoza, a human rights lawyer and member of the DPRI, noted that while drugs were a concern for the country to address, its magnitude was exaggerated by Duterte, given the global average.
“Actually he did [exaggerate],” Mendoza said, and the solutions he espoused were thus “out of proportion to a problem that doesn’t merit that kind of attention and spending.”
Mendoza said the government’s punitive approach to the problem—launching a crackdown on suspected drug users and peddlers that left thousands dead, mostly in questionable police operations in the slums—only gave rise to larger social concerns.
“We still don’t have data on the orphans [of those killed]. What happened to them? How do they live after the breadwinners were killed? The cost of the deaths is something that created more problems,” Mendoza pointed out.
Established in 2022, DPRI is a coalition of different groups providing support to the drug war victims and their families. Among its members are Street Law, Injectable Drug Users Care, Institute of Politics and Governance, NoBox Foundation, and Asian Society of Community Rehabilitation Practitioners.
The coalition called on the Marcos administration to put more focus on the proper rehabilitation of drug users especially at the community level, instead of hauling them off to “mega” rehabilitation facilities where, studies show, isolation could only hamper their recovery.
Local governments, the DPRI said, should focus instead on “harm reduction.”
Curbing drug dependence, for example, need not require a long, almost punishing stay in rehab facilities, it added.
In Australia, Mendoza said, among the harm reduction methods adopted by the health system is the use of an “alternative drug” for meth and opoid, slowly reducing the user’s dosage over a time period until he or she is eased out of dependency. —WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH