HEALTH: DRUG ADDICTION: MOTHER OF ALL CRIMES

“I don’t like people involved in drugs. I don’t care if they are soldiers or policemen. I tell them that drug dealers and criminals in my city have only two destinations – the jail or the funeral parlors.” – Former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo D. Duterte, now the 16th president of the Philippines

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It needs the cooperation of all Filipinos to fix the illegal drug addiction that is sweeping across the country “because the problem about drugs is not solitary, it is familial, it is communal, and it is an economic problem,” said Ramon Cualoping III, assistant secretary and Chief Brand Integrator of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

“As we all know, it is one of the top priority programs of President (Rodrigo R. Duterte) and admittedly, it has become very political since what always comes out is the negative side of illegal drugs,” he said during the First National Ant-Drugs Summit held in Davao City last February 3.

The war on drugs is for real.  Statistics gathered by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Bureau of Customs (BOC) painted a haunting picture.

From July 1, 2016 to January 17, 2018, about 81,919 anti-drug operations were conducted from which 119,361 personalities were arrested.  Some 3,987 drug personalities died in these anti-drug operations.

Some of those arrested were government workers themselves.  PDEA reported that in the span of time, 213 government employees, 189 elected officials and 44 uniformed personnel were arrested in anti-drug operations.

The PNP’s Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management said that in the aforementioned dates, 21,908 cases referred to prosecution while another 42,182 cases were field in court.

“The threat of illegal drugs is real and it’s closer than we think.  In the Philippines, the drug abuse situation has actually increased over the years,” declares Dr. Willie T. Ong, an internist-cardiologist and consultant at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital and Makati Medical Center.

Drug addiction spares no one: famous and notorious, beautiful and ugly, employed or jobless, young and old, rich and poor.  “There is no community in the country which is virtually free from such menace,” observed Manuel B. Garcia and Leovigildo O. Militante, authors of Social Problems.

Taking illegal drugs is common among young people and those involved in showbiz.  “Among the teenagers, one cannot be considered ‘in’ when he has had no experience with these prohibited drugs,” Garcia and Militante wrote.  “In show business, drug addiction is more of a rule than an exception.  Most of them are drug dependents.”

These people take drugs because of peer pressure and pressure of their profession.  In the beginning, illegal drugs may help but in the long run, it will completely destroy their future.  “Illegal drugs can easily destroy a whole generation,” said Alan Peter Cayetano when he was still a member of the Senate.

Drug addiction is a social problem that begets a host of other social problems – smuggling, prostitution, killing, gunrunning.  The author has no current data but a Narcotics Command report in 1996 showed that illegal drugs cause a rape to happen every 19 hours, the loss of 22 lives daily through murder and homicide; and the commission of 50 crimes against property each day.

“Majority of crimes which occur are basically influenced by drug addiction,” said the late Senator Ernesto F. Herrera, who was then the chairman of the National Citizens Drug Watch Movement.

According to Cayetano, in many cases of heinous crimes in the country, the suspects are usually confirmed users of shabu.  Just for a record, from July 1, 2016 to January 17, 2018, the PDEA said it has seized 2,577.05 kilograms of shabu with a street value of P13.24 billion pesos.

Cayetano cited a technical briefing released by the Geneva-based World Health Organization which said that the dependence and chronic usage of amphetamine-type stimulants is associated with psychosis and causes cognitive impairment, aggression and violence.

“The Filipinos have witnessed how the use of illegal drugs like methamphetamine led to violence and destroyed the lives of many,” he pointed out, adding that young people are the most vulnerable to the temptation and evils of prohibited drugs. 

It must be recalled that in 2008, the Philippine media reported the arrest of 11 high-school students who were caught doing a pot session in Quezon City. Most of the arrested students came from the ranks of “financially-distressed families.”

As the students could not afford to conduct “the pot session in a luxurious hotel or a mansion-like residence or condominium in one of the metropolitan areas’ premier locations that some scions of well-to-do families reportedly do on a regular basis,” they held it only in a “vacant lot.”

A drug is defined as “any substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, relief, treatment or prevention of disease or intended to affect the structure or function of the body.”

A simpler but workable definition of a drug is “any chemical substance that affects the body and its processes.”

“By law, drugs are divided into two categories: prescription drugs and non-prescription drugs,” explains The Merck Manual of Medical Information.  “Prescription drugs – those considered safe for use only under medical supervision – may be dispensed only with a prescription from a licensed professional with governmental privileges to prescribe.”

Non-prescription drugs, on the other hand, are those considered safe for use without any medical supervision (like aspirin, for instance).  Oftentimes, these drugs are sold over-the counter.

To some people, the word “drug” means a substance that alters the brain’s function in ways considered pleasurable – a mind-altering substance.  These are what the Dangerous Drug Board (DDB) as “dangerous drugs” or “illegal drugs.”

“Drug abuse exists when a person continually uses a drug other than its intended purpose,” the DDB explains in its website. “This continued use can lead to drug dependence, a state of physical and psychological dependence or both on a dangerous drug.”

“Drug abuse is not a single event, but rather a series of events that form a pattern,” explains Dr. Mark S. Gold, author of the bestselling The Facts About Drugs and Alcohol.  “Abuse may or may not lead to addic­tion, depending on other fac­tors.”

The Philippines Health Guide Book says a person is said to be abusing drugs when he or she manifests the following symptoms: persistent poor appetite, loss of weight; changes in appearance (examples: bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, clumsy movements); changes in behavior (sudden mood swings, long absences from home, unexplained desire to be along, avoiding friends and/or family members); poor school or work performance (failing grades, poor concentra­tion, loss of interest in studies or work); unusual odor from the person’s clothes; suspicious tablets/capsules found in the person’s bedroom or among his/her possessions; and disappearance of cans of glue/paint thinner, plastic bags and prescription medicines from the medicine cabinet at home.

Even in small amounts, illegal drugs can create big problems, according to the booklet, The Truth About Drugs.  “It is not always possible to predict how a drug will affect the user – or the user’s life,” it says.

Drug use can cause, the booklet claims, damage to health, trouble with the law, financial hardship, and social difficulties.  “While the specific physical and psychological effects of drug use disorder tend to vary based on the particular substance involved, the general effects of a substance use disorder involving any drug can be devastating,” explains the website, medicinenet.com.

More than a health issue, drug users often end up with serious problems.  Aside from those mentioned earlier, they may figure in a car accident (drugs can impair driving ability and make the driver less concerned about safety), commit crimes (robbery is often the only way to support an expensive habit), and build up tolerance (when users need more and more of a drug to get the same effect, they increase their risk of an overdose, which often result in death).

But why do people, especially the young ones, resort to abusing drugs?  In their book, Garcia and Militante cited three factors: parental influences, peer influences, and personality factors.  Below is the brief explanation of each:

Parental influences: These provide the earliest conditions contributing to drug abuse.  Such conditions include a broken home, lack of parental love and affection, insecurity, infliction of harsh physical punishment, too permissive and liberal atmosphere, alcoholic parents, feeling of rejection, loneliness and depression.

Peer influence: The pressure of friends has greatest impact on teenager.  During this particular stage of human development, they are fond of trying new things including drugs.  They think experimenting with drugs is harmless.

Personality factors: People of various personality types are capable of indulging themselves in prohibited drugs.  They do try drugs because of a host of personal reasons: belief that drugs can solve all of their problems, to gain euphoria or a feeling of well-being, relief from boredom, escape from problems, and possession of self-confidence and satisfaction which then usually do not have in the absence of drugs.

In the Philippines as in other parts of the world, solving the drug addiction problem is a herculean task.  “This problem has become so complexed that a simple police apprehension of a drug victim or a drug pusher is not enough,” Garcia and Militante wrote.  “What seems to be more effective is the application of a truly holistic approach involving the whole society itself.

“Theoretically, this approach means that every one should help in the solution of the problem,” the two authors explained.  “However, this is much easier said than done since its root cause has been societally structured or institutionalized.  Certain syndicates in close coordination with other sectors of society have been organized in ‘drug trafficking’ so much so that common solutions become ineffective.  Solution, therefore, should not be superficial; they should get down to the root of the problem.”

Cualoping pointed out in his speech that 90% of the government effort now is focused on the drug surrenderers for their rehabilitation and reintegration processes. Dr. Ong seemed to agree.  “Drug addiction is considered a disease and needs comprehensive and prolonged treatment,” the doctor pointed out.  “After being rehabilitated, the drug abuser should still be closely monitored so that he or she will not relapse again into using drugs.”

The war on drug is not yet over.  “It is still ongoing,” Cualoping declared.