All-out war against illegal drugs

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte elaborates anew the need to correct the historical injustices committed against the Moros in Mindanao before peace could be achieved in his speech during the oath-taking ceremony of the newly-appointed government officials and the new officers of the Philippine Councilors’ League (PCL) officers at the Heroes Hall in Malacañan Palace on March 30, 2017. RICHARD MADELO/Presidential Photo

“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


“Drug abuse has ruined many lives,” declares Dr. Willie T. Ong, an internist-cardiologist and consultant at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital and Makati Medical Center.  “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.”

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.”

Drugs addiction spares no one: famous and notorious, beautiful and ugly, employed or jobless, young and old, rich and poor.

In the United States, a lot of famous people died as a result of drug abuse.  Among those whose lives were snatched by drugs include Whitney Houston, Cory Monteith, John Belushi, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, River Phoenix, Michael Jackson and Health Ledger.

Publicized bout

Perhaps one of the most-publicized bouts with substance abuse in the country was that of Mark Anthony Fernandez, the son of the late Rudy Fernandez and Alma Moreno.  In an article, which was published in Sunday Inquirer Magazine (July 16, 2000), the actor recalled the life-changing struggle he had with illegal drugs.

“A few years back, Fernandez tried some of the dope out of simple curiosity,” wrote Cora Llamas, author of the feature.  “At that time, he had been living on his own and was beginning to make his mark in movies and television.  Like other kids his age, he ‘thought that I could handle it.  But the truth is, even if you think that, you can’t.  Drugs are chemicals.  They’ll fry your brains.’”

The first he tried was shabu.  “Afterwards, he moved on to novocaine.  It was only a matter of time before he started pricking drug-filled needles into his skin.  The high – what he calls the ‘amat’ that he got – was tremendous,” Llamas wrote.

“I was so conscious, so aware of everything that was happening around me,” Fernandez was quoted as saying.  “The feeling was like…. Think of the happiest, most exciting thing that has happened or could happen to you.  You won in the lotto or you got married.  That was how I felt when I was pumped with drugs.”

Already hooked, he made a rule for himself that he won’t do drugs when he was shooting a movie or doing television show.  “Fernandez took the drugs at home,” Llamas wrote.  “The few times he tried taking drugs while shooting one scene of a movie, it was awful.  He couldn’t concentrate on his lines.”

From ‘amat,’ he started to experience those notorious, destructive moments called “the bad trip.”  This was what he said about it: “You feel so sleepy, but you can’t sleep. It’s like you’re really drunk.  When the effect of the drug goes down, you become pissed off.  I would have a short fuse.  I became a slob and a lazy bum.  It became hard to talk to me.”

To counter such effects, he took the downers.   “Drug adding upon drug,” Llamas wrote.  “Then paranoia set in.  Fernandez soon felt that everyone was after him.  Every shadow took on a sinister significance.  Every sound was a warning to some kind of danger.  It drove him batty.”

When he could no longer felt safe anymore, he stayed with his father, who was not aware of what was happening to his son.  Until one night, “Fernandez woke up feeling that there were cameras in his room, monitoring his every move.  His dad was the only one who could have done such a thing.  Angry and desperate, he confronted the baffled Rudy about it.

“As the argument intensified, Fernandez soon started losing his breath and, in a few minutes, passed out in Rudy’s arms.  His father rushed him to the hospital.  Before he knew it, he found himself cuffed; he was being prepared for detoxification in the hospital, then later admission into the rehab center,” Llamas wrote.

Drugs 101

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.”

A series of events

“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.”

Drug abuse has become a grave problem already in the Philippines.  Based on the reports submitted to the DDB in 2014, 92% of the admitted cases to treatment and rehabilitation centers were males and almost eight percent were females. The ratio of male to female is 12:1.

The DDB says that those who belong to the 30-34 age-group comprised most of the admitted cases with 20%.  The 40-and-above bracket closely trailed with 19%.  About 18% belong to the 25-29 age-group.  The average age is 30 years old. The youngest was 9 years old and the oldest was 78 years old.

Almost half (49%) of the admitted cases were single, while 33% were married. Fourteen percent reported to have live-in partners and the remaining 3% were either separated, widow/widower or divorced.

Based on the educational attainment, 30% comprised those who have reached college level, followed by those who reached high school with 25% and those who finished high school at 16%.

Of the reported 4,392 total admission, 48% were unemployed, 27% were workers or employees, 11% were businessman/self-employed, 8% were out-of-school youths and 4% were still students.

As to the age when those admitted first tried to use drugs, 48% belong to the 15-19 age group.  Half of the reported cases have taken drugs 2-5 times a week while 21% have it on a daily basis.

Based on a report on cases admitted in treatment and rehabilitation centers, the top ten commonly abused drugs are as follows: shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride, marijuana, inhalants like rugby, sedative drugs like benzodiazepines, cough and cold preparations like codeine, ecstasy, cocaine, nalpuphine hydrochloride, psilocybin or magic mushroom and solvents like acetone and thinner.

In 2012, the Philippines was singled out to have “the highest abuse rate for shabu” in East Asia, according to the United Nations World Drug Report, which was posted on the website of the US Embassy in Manila.

Philippine Daily Inquirer report said that “2.1 percent of Filipinos aged 16 to 64 were using shabu,” and “domestic consumption of methamphetamine and marijuana continued to be the main drug threats in the Philippines.”

Of the top 10 ten most abused drugs mentioned earlier, shabu and marijuana topped them all: 47% and 18%, respectively.

Other crimes

Drug addiction begets a host of other 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 Drugwatch Movement.

Many of the street children are drug abusers themselves. “Drug abuse is most pervasive among the sexually exploited children, who resort to the vice as a coping mechanism,” Herrera said.

“Children forced into prostitution due to poverty and neglect are 10 times more likely to abuse drugs compared to their adult counterparts,” Herrera added.  “They are far more vulnerable because at their tender age, children tend to have weaker emotional and psychological defenses.  They are also less informed about the adverse effects of narcotics.”

Health problems

“Different illicit drugs can have their own peculiar effects,” writes Dr. Ong in his book, Doctors’ Health Tips and Home Remedies.  “As a whole, these drugs may lead to heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, lung disease, obesity and mental disorders.”

Shabu, for instance, “can cause chest pain, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, heart attack and even cardiac arrest.  Methamphetamines may also give rise to irritability, talkativeness, insomnia and violent and destructive behavior.”

Marijuana, on the other hand, “can cause chest pain, lack of coordination, poor memory, poor concentration, red eyes and temporary loss of fertility,” Dr. Ong points out.  Constant use of marijuana can also “significantly reduces a person’s capacity to learn, carry-out complicated tasks, participate in sports, driving and operating other machineries.”

The use by young Filipinos of prohibited drugs is now considered as one of the country’s scourge. The abuse has reached epidemic, if not widespread, proportion.

Possible signs

In his book, Dr. Ong gives some possible signs of drug abuse.  “First, the person may associate with friends who are known drug users.  Second, the person often needs money and sometimes steals things at home.  Third, the person may exhibit some changes in behavior and mood.”

On the latter, he explains: “He or she may be irritable, discourteous and aggressive.  (If the person is a student, he or she) may stop going to class and receive failing grades.  There may be poor personal grooming and a general lack of interest in life.  Take note, however, that these behavioral clues are not always present.”

The DDB further gives these signs: asks to be left alone a lot, always tired (or makes it as an excuse to be left alone), careless and often becomes involved in accidents, implicated in a lot of fights, sudden change in appearance and conduct (red or puffy eyes, weight changes, constant complaints of headaches or stomachaches, shaking, incessant cough, brown stains on fingertips, stumbling, or a constant runny nose), loss of interest in hobbies or sports, exhibits poor judgment, and finds it difficult to concentrate.

“If you suspect that a friend is using drugs, talk to him or her,” the DDB suggests. “Let your friend know that you care. Talk to your parents, teacher, school counselor, or another trusted adult. Offer to go with your friend to his parents or a counselor for help.”

Help someone who is addicted to drugs.  “Drug addiction is considered a disease and needs comprehensive and prolonged treatment,” Dr. Ong reminds.  “After being rehabilitated, the drug abuser should still be closely monitored so that he or she will not relapse again into using drugs.”

Be informed