'Not all drug users are alike'

A health approach to a health problem

Experts in the field of medicine presented different takes on addressing the issue of illegal drug use in the country. Dr. Jessy Ang, a Filipino psychiatrist practicing in the USA, believes that the only way to contain the drug problem in the country is through understanding the nature of the disease, as well as education and information with the key message that drug addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease that causes the addicted individual to compulsively seek the drug despite its harmful effects.

Dr. Ang also identified four (4) types of drug users, namely: 1) experimenters or those who are curious about a particular drug’s effects, this type do not become addicted to drugs; 2) casual drug users or those who use substances in social situations, usually to relax, fit in or have fun; 3) binge users or those involved in periodic heavy drug intake, which is a problematic pattern of drug use that can lead to addiction; and 4) speed freaks or drug dependents/addicts. It is with this type of users that drug use interferes with work, health, career, finances, relationships or other areas of life. However, seeing drug addiction as a disease, Dr. Ang emphasized that it can be treatable. He also stressed that rehabilitation should be an option available to Filipinos who have fallen into drug addiction.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jasmin Peralta, Program Manager of DOH-Dangerous Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program said that since drug use is a health problem, a health approach is needed in addressing the issue. Peralta maintained that screening and assessment process of drug surrenders is a must to identify intervention programs, and that government intervention should depend on the level of drug use. Classification is a determining factor if the surrenders are just needing counseling, be identified as out-patient (non-residential treatment), be an in-patient (residential treatment) to rehabilitation programs, just needing psychological advices or requiring a referral to a mental health institution.

Peralta echoed Dr. Ang’s position that drug use can be classified into low, moderate and severe levels. Her advice is that use ranging from low to moderate need not be admitted to drug treatment and rehabilitation center (TRC) but should instead undergo community-based rehabilitation program. DOH defines community-based rehabilitation as evidence-based interventions given by the community or LGUs. These interventions do not include in-house rehabilitation. Examples of activities under community-based rehabilitation are the street cleaning, arts and crafts making, and sports.

Drug users identified as dependents and severe users on the other hand, should be admitted as in-patients in TRCs. Peralta also asked for the full support of the local governments and encourage them to take on an active role in the rehabilitation and reformation of illegal drug users in a their respective jurisdictions.
There are currently 14 DOH TRCs in the country. There is a DOH TRC in almost all the regions across the country except for CAR, MIMAROPA, NIR, SOCCSKSARGEN, and ARMM. With fifty percent of DOH’s P3.6-billion budget for drug treatment and rehabilitation allotted for the upkeep, operations and construction of new rehabilitation centers, Peralta is confident that the Department can serve more drug dependents seeking rehabilitation.

Photo courtesy: European Pressphoto Agency