From addiction to recovery: How barangay rehab programs help people overcome drugs
MANILA, Philippines—Last December, 56-year-old Noy graduated from the drug prevention and control program of the Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Council (BADAC) of Barangay 177 in Caloocan City, a course that took up to four months.
Currently, Noy lives with four siblings and their families in the same barangay. He is jobless now and hopes to be employed soon. In the meantime, he helps with household chores and earns a little from relatives.
Noy was just 14 years old when he started substance use with cough syrup. He would buy this in small pharmacies without his mother and siblings’s knowledge. It was just out of curiosity, Noy said.
He said at first he was just “experimenting” with cough syrup. Eventually, he was introduced to marijuana by high school friends. He alternated between cough syrup and marijuana, but stopped using both at 18, saying he did not like the side effects.
“Di ako nagtagal don sa dalawa (cough syrup and marijuana) kasi nalalagas nga yung mga ngipin ko. Hindi ko gusto yung epekto sakin kain ka lang ng kain, nakahiga. Kaya nag-iba na ako, naging shabu na,” he told INQUIRER.net in an interview.
(I did not last using both because my teeth were falling off. I did not like the effect on me because I just kept eating, just lying down. That’s why I switched to shabu)
The substance use, particulary crystal meth, or shabu, intensified in his college days. But despite this, Noy said he was able to earn a degree in business management in a Quezon City university and landed a job as factory worker. He did not last for a month, though, because of poor vision in both eyes.
He kept applying for jobs in other companies, including those that are unrelated to his college degree.
“Nagapply ako, hindi din naman ako tinanggap kahit janitorial. Janitorial nga nahihirapan na ‘ko eh dahil sa mata ko,” he said.
(I kept applying, but companies refused to accept me even as a janitor. Due to my condition, I’m having difficulty doing janitorial-related jobs.)
Failing to find regular work frustrated Noy. He said he coped with the situation by substance use and eventually ended up selling drugs. From late 1990s to 2000, Noy’s income source was to connect people who use drugs with those who sell them and also getting involved in illegal gambling, like jueteng.
In 2021, authorities caught Noy in a drug bust and detained him for two months at the Caloocan City jail. When he got out, Noy went to Barangay 177’s BADAC department for screening. He wanted help.
According to BADAC assistant head Gloria Sanchez, Noy was in the recent batch of program graduates she monitors monthly through one-on-one sessions, home visitations, and updates from their chat group on Facebook.
BADAC started in 2016 and was established under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular 2015-63 and 2017-03, which mandated all barangays to create the program and help law enforcement agencies in strengthening the country’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.
Under BADAC, a community-based drug rehabilitation program (CBDRP) offers sessions with 15 modules about self, family, and faith. Sessions are conducted once a week, depending on schedules set by the BADAC assistant head. Under Sanchez’s leadership, sessions are usually conducted in the barangay hall every Sunday, from 10 a.m. to noon or depending on the availability of outpatients.
Prior to helping people involved with drugs, Sanchez said she had a week of training on the program Katatagan Kontra Droga sa Komunidad (KKDK) with other BADAC assistant heads at the Ateneo de Manila University, where they were trained by Professor Regina Hechanova to teach modules in the KKDK manual.
Among the topics discussed in these modules were understanding drug use, motivation for change, coping with cravings, managing external triggers, refusal skills, and healthy life under drug discovery skills.
The life skills part covers topics like managing emotions, interpersonal skills, rebuilding relationships, problem-solving, harnessing strengths, planning for the future, and drugs and their effects. The family support aspect tackles drugs and their effects, family and drug use, and family in recovery.
A total of 11 batches had already finished the program. Sanchez claimed that, so far, none of the graduates have returned to substance use, adding that a fresh set of 28 outpatients from Batch 12 had undergone orientation last May 19 and started the program on May 21.
Requirements and screening process
Anyone involved with drugs may participate, but Sanchez said they specifically cater to individuals who volunteered to participate in the CBDRP and those on drug watchlists.
She revealed that the watchlist contains names of individuals with drug-related offenses given to BADAC by the Philippine National Police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and those who just got out of jail, including individuals, like Noy, who underwent plea bargaining to reduce penalties.
To join CBDRP, Sanchez said no requirements are needed for screening. Abstaining from drug use is not enforced on outpatients under the KKDK manual. In screening participants, BADAC heads and assistant heads, like Sanchez, ask questions under the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST) manual.
ASSIST lists eight questions about which substances were used; the frequency of drug use in the past three months; urges; frequency of health, social, legal, or financial problems related to substance use; and effect of substance use on daily tasks and responsibilities, among others.
After the screening, outpatients are categorized in three levels. Sanchez said BADAC specifically caters to level one and two outpatients.
She explained that participants in level one are those who voluntarily went to them for screening and individuals who used a specific substance just once. They undergo general intervention and are asked to report to BADAC facilitators for three weeks, depending on their availability.
Level two outpatients, on the other hand, are supervised by Sanchez. In this level, participants undergo a three to four-month CBDRP where the BADAC modules are discussed each week for two weeks.
Inpatients in level three, or those with low to zero drug use resistance, are referred to a rehabilitation center. For BADAC in Barangay 177, Sanchez said they specifically refer inpatients to Taguig Rehabilitation Center or Kanlungan, a reformation center in Caloocan City.
Life after BADAC
Sanchez said the primary goal of BADAC’s CBDRP is to steer graduates away from substance use, adding that participants of the program either return to their old jobs, absorbed by Barangay 177 as watchmen (tanod), offered other positions within the community, or remain unemployed.
Like Noy, Sanchez admitted that not all participants from previous batches were employed immediately. Some are still job- hunting.
For individuals involved with drugs who still need to finish their studies, BADAC teaches them basic livelihood programs and gives them training on soap or dishwashing-making and barista or bartending courses under the Alternative Learning System. After which, they will receive a Technical Education And Skills Development Authority certificate they may use to apply for work.
In Noy’s case, he was hoping to find a job to support himself despite his vision impairment. Like some graduates, the 56-year-old hopes to secure a spot as a barangay watchman. Sanchez said this is possible once a position becomes available.
Fighting the stigma
Noy said he is aware of what he did and the consequences of his action, adding that he is used to people talking behind his back. He felt ashamed after being detained for two months and people looked down on him.
“Nahiya lang ako nung nakulong ako. Okay lang sakin. Kasi hindi naman ako masamang tao sa kanila eh. Basta siguro pag nakikita nila ako babatiin nila ‘ko. Yun lang,” he said.
(I was just embarrassed when I was imprisoned, but it’s okay with me because I know I’m not a bad person to them. We are civil to each other.)
In addressing the stigma surrounding drug addiction, Sanchez explained that they conduct orientations in schools to raise awareness, discussing the causes and effects of illegal drugs on the human body.
Facilitators and assistant heads like her were also discouraged from using derogatory terms like “drug peddlers” and “drug addicts,” among others, and were encouraged to call patients by their names.
(Note: This story was produced with the help of a grant from the Drug Policy Reform Initiative.)