Press Release
October 3, 2016

Hontiveros to gov't: Promise hope not death to drug dependents, push for public health approach to anti-drug campaign

Two days after President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to kill the country's estimated three million drug users, Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros made an emphatic appeal to the government to provide drug dependents with hope by mainstreaming a public health approach to its anti-drug campaign.

In a forum held at at the Ateneo De Manila University on Monday, Hontiveros spoke of the need for a policy anchored on public health and human rights to effectively address the drug problem and rehabilitate drug dependents. The forum was organized by the Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo Law School and the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health.

The Senator argued that worldwide the drug problem is acknowledged as a public health issue, and a strictly punitive and violent war on drugs have failed in many parts of the world.

"The government must promise hope not death to drug dependents. It must guarantee health care assistance not violence. This is the more effective, affordable and compassionate anti-drug policy," Hontiveros said.

"Harm reduction"

Hontiveros, who is also the Chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, pushed for "harm reduction programs and practices" to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of illegal drugs. These include the opening of community-based out-patient rehabilitation programs, drop-in centers, and conducting of harm reduction capacity-building sessions for local governments, health agencies and non-government organizations.

"Harm reduction as an essential component of the public health approach to the drug problem has effectively reduced overdose, overdose deaths, and HIV transmissions. Furthermore, based on the experiences of China and Iran, harm reduction strategies led to less trafficking, less use of illicit drugs, crime reduction, higher rates of employment among former dependents, and greater participation of drug dependents in communities and family activities," Hontiveros explained.

"Cost-effective and affordable"

The first-term senator also said that a public health approach to the drug problem is cost-effective and affordable. Citing several studies, Hontiveros said that for every dollar invested on harm reduction, over $4 accrue in short term health-care cost savings. She also said advocates estimated that only 10 percent of the approximately $100 billion spent annually on international drug enforcement would already cover HIV prevention services for drug users for four years.

"The government must explore all available options and enrich the discourse on the alternatives we have. It must include the public health and human rights lens in its anti-drug campaign. Maybe in order to win this war, it is the legendary nurse, Florence Nightingale, that we must find inspiration from rather than an Adolf Hitler," Hontiveros concluded.

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