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Quezon City eyes ‘save-the-user’ anti-drug program

Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, who heads the city’s Anti-Drug Abuse Advisory Council, gestures during an interview in her office at city hall on Tuesday.

MANILA, Philippines – In an anti-drug campaign that treats drug dealers and pushers as the enemy, and drug dependents as the victims, Quezon City is crafting programs that aim to save the lives of the dependents, Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte said yesterday.

“If we can avoid an unnecessary bloodbath, we will. Our stand is if we can save a life, then save a life and help them change instead,” Belmonte told The STAR.

She said they want to devise measures that will support and complement the national government’s strong campaign against dealers and pushers of illegal drugs, and save the users at the same time.

“For us, pushing, dealing and drug protecting are the purview of the police because these are criminal and non-bailable acts. Being a drug dependent that has not committed any crime yet or has committed only a minor offense is our focus. And we have a good rehab program,” Belmonte said.

The city government is faced with the challenge of managing the number of drug “surrenderees,” which has reached 7,450 as of yesterday.

The city government said it does not have enough resources to accommodate all the drug victims.

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Belmonte’s office said only 15 percent of surrenderees have been evaluated for drug dependency since July 1.

The evaluation will determine what is the best course of treatment for the victim: counseling, rehabilitation or psychiatric treatment.

Belmonte, who heads the Quezon City Anti-Drug Abuse Advisory Council (QCADAAC), said at the barangay level, community-based programs catering to the youth, unemployed and other sectors are being implemented. These include information drives, sports clinics and Zumba classes.

She admitted that these are band-aid solutions since drug victims’ problems can only be solved through full treatment, community integration and livelihood opportunities.

To help drug victims in the long run, Belmonte said they are looking to double the 150-bed capacity of the Quezon City Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Center or “Tahanan,” one of the few government-owned and controlled centers that provide free treatment.

The city government has also launched a database, the Integrated Drug Abuse Profiling System, to allow for a better management and assessment of the overall drug demand and supply reduction efforts in the city.

Civilian and police focal persons are tasked to look after the system, which will be installed in 142 barangays and 12 police stations in the city.

“We also have an integrated drug profiling system linking our database with that of the police and barangays for a uniform and standard set of information about surrenderees that can help us make policies and focus our resources to better address rehab efforts and social services to their families. For the cops, the shared database allows them to study other variables related to law enforcement. It is this computerized database that makes our private program unique. We are the only LGU with something like this,” Belmonte said.

“The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency is also linking with our database. What makes us unique also in Quezon City is the coordinated efforts of the DILG, QCPD, DDB, barangays and QCADAAC,” she added.

Belmonte said the city has earmarked P50 million for various anti-drug abuse and rehabilitation programs in its 2016 budget.

The city government is also partnering with private stakeholders and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for alternative training systems for drug dependents.

“TESDA will be working with us to ensure that once the drug dependents complete the rehab process they will receive skills that can land them a job,” Belmonte said.

The city government is also eyeing several legislative measures such as enforcing drug-free workplaces, public vehicles and schools.

“We are also actively legislating (through Councilor Gian Sotto) to do drug testing of vulnerable sectors such as transport groups, students and employees of both public and private sectors. We will be setting up several LGU-run drug testing laboratories so we depend less on the DOH,” Belmonte said.

Relapse

Drug surrenderees often suffer relapses, according to Quezon City Police District director Senior Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar.

He said surrenderees account for 326 or 40 percent of 816 persons arrested for drug-related crimes since July 1.

Surrenderees account for about a third of the 59 drug suspects “neutralized” by police officers in legitimate operations.

Chief Inspector Ruel Yepes, Kamuning police station anti-drug unit head, said this also partly because there is a misconception that once drug dependents surrender, they are safe from police operations.

He said this reflects the need to improve alternative rehabilitative support for surrenderees in the city.

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