Press Release
December 29, 2016

Hontiveros: We didn't need 6,000 people dead to implement a public health policy on drug abuse

Asserting that the country's drug problem has always been a public health concern, Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros today said that the government should have implemented a public health policy on drug abuse from the very start, instead of encouraging a climate of killing in its war on drugs.

"Our country did not need more than 6,000 people to die in order to see drug abuse as a public health issue. The government's supposed shift to a public health approach in its anti-drugs campaign should have come first in a comprehensive response. At this point, I am afraid that this is an attempt to appropriate the public health advocacy without stopping and exacting accountability for the extrajudicial killings. Malacañang is painting a picture of victory and is using the public health discourse to provide a humane face to its deadly war on drugs and evade accountability for the patent abuses," Hontiveros said.

It was reported that on Tuesday, Malacañang announced that the country's drug problem has now become a "public health issue" after it claimed "victory" in its war on drugs. This is despite President Rodrigo Duterte's failure to make good on his electoral promise to end the drug problem in six months.

"Add rehab centers and stir"

Hontiveros said that the Duterte government can't just use an "add rehab centers and stir" approach in its belated attempt to add a health angle to its deadly war on drugs.

"It would be mechanical and tokenistic. The government might think that by simply building a mega-drug rehabilitation center and putting all the drug addicts there, it has sufficiently addressed the health needs of the drug users. Yet, what the majority of the drug users actually need are not inpatient care but outpatient healthcare interventions," Hontiveros explained.

Hontiveros, who is Chair of the Senate Committee on Heath, said that only 9% of suspected drugs users who have surrendered under Oplan Tokhang were committed in rehabilitation facilities. The 91% who do not need institutionalized support went back to their communities. She said that the progress in modern drug rehabilitation and comprehensive out-patient healthcare programs guarantee that only those who are extremely addicted to illegal drugs are admitted to a drug rehabilitation facility.

"The government should have heeded our appeal at the outset and mobilized resources in the funding of out-patient rehabilitation programs and community drop-in centers, as well as harm reduction capacity-building sessions for local governments, health agencies and non-government organizations. Now, much harm, which could have been prevented, has been inflicted on thousands of dead, drug dependents further cut off from health services and poor people deprived of public funds used for Tokhang instead of for social and economic programs," Hontiveros said.

End the killings, best public health approach

The senator said that the best public health approach now appropriate for the situation is for the government to put a stop to the extrajudicial killings.

"Ending the killings and holding all those responsible for these atrocities must be done alongside the implementation of a public health agenda on the anti-drugs campaign. Failure to do so will fuel further speculations that the government not only condones the EJKs, but sanctions them, to the detriment of the people's health," Hontiveros concluded.

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