'Rugby': cheap high for city's street kids (Last of two parts)
- AJ de la Torre, Niña G. Sumacot-Abenoja, Wenna Berondo () - May 18, 2009 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Toluene, which is one of the components of “rugby,” is the latest to be classified as a dangerous drug following its widespread abuse and is classified as a controlled precursor and essential chemical under RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

Toluene, also known as methylbenzene or phenylmethane, is a clear, water-insoluble liquid with the typical smell of paint thinners, redolent of the sweet smell of the related compound benzene. It is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is widely used as an industrial feedstock and as a solvent.

According to Makalinao, rugby sniffing is one of the most common ways by which toluene is abused. However, she added that there is no comprehensive epidemiologic data on the magnitude of inhalant abuse among children and adolescents in the country.

Dr. Rustico Apolonio, technical administrator of the Cebu City Treatment and Rehabilitation Center said that once rugby is inhaled, it goes directly to the blood then flows through the brain which causes damage to the nervous system. 

As for the immediate effects of rugby, he said mind and mood alteration are among the first few things to appear.

Aside from loss of appetite, which is one of the reasons why it is taken by those without financial ability to buy food, confusion and disorientation also takes place.

Apolonio said that the user would have a distorted perception of time and depth which causes them to do things they would not do when they are sober like jump in the water even though they do not know how to swim or cross the street even during a green light.

Rugby-sniffing also causes violent behavior and gives sexual urges.

Apolonio shared that rugby’s long-term effects will be in the brain, kidney and liver. The damage that it does to the brain cells causes problem in the ability to think properly and permanent brain damage. It also causes muscle cramps, numbness of extremities and abdominal pain.

Apolonio said that children using rugby would have greater risks when it comes to complications especially when they are using it daily.

Aside from the damage in the parts of the body, it is harder for kids to be rehabilitated and taken out from their habit because it has become part of their routine as they grow up.

Just like any other dangerous drug, Apolonio said that rugby could be as deadly as those expensive ones like shabu and ecstasy.

Save the kids from ‘rugby’

Concerned over the increasing number of children hooked into rugby, the city government is now slowly moving to come up with a concrete program to address the problem.

Believing the issue is not just a simple police problem, acting mayor Michael Rama said he wants a separate “system” that would deal with the rugby menace.

With this, Rama said there should be constant meetings among different concerned sectors in order to craft an efficient program to curb the problem.

“The police, DSWS, parents, barangay… everyone has to be involved to come up with that concrete structure on how to solve it, we have to put the right foundation,” the acting mayor said, adding he wants the structure to be in place the soonest time possible.

But in the absence of a concrete law to stop the sale of addictive industrial glue to minors, Apolonio said the best thing to do right now is put mustard oil to the adhesive product to give it a foul smell that would be unbearable for the users to sniff.

He explained it is not in the substance that rugby has that makes it addictive, but rather on the psychological abuse effect it gives to the dependent that makes him not go through a day without using it.

He explained that this could be present in any volatile substance aside from contact cement like paint.

The Dangerous Drugs Board has proposed to put five percent mustard oil to industrial glue to stop children from sniffing it. However, manufacturers who do not wish to comply could ask for a license from PDEA for their production to be closely monitored by the agency. 

Mustard oil dampens toluene’s attractive smell making the contact cement pungent and less desirable to sniffers.

Juvenile Justice Law

Comendador admitted that the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 a few years ago has affected their operation against the rugby-sniffing children and minor offenders.

“They have been responded to by our police and the social welfare department of the city but all our efforts are put to naught considering the inherent problems found in the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Law and inadequacy of resources. We can neither imprison them to clear them from the streets nor is there a rehabilitation/diversion center in order that they would no longer become a menace to the society. It is really a vicious cycle,” the police official emphasized.

Under the Juvenile Justice law, children below 18 years old cannot be prosecuted for vagrancy, prostitution, mendicancy, and sniffing of rugby. They are also exempted from the death penalty. The law also provides that children who are 15 years old and below are exempted from any criminal liability. However, those who are more than 15 years old but below 18 are still exempted from any criminal liability, but would be subject to an intervention program.In October last year, two representatives of Cibac party-list filed House Bill 4955, which seeks to make sure rugby and other toluene-based products, are not used beyond household lubricants, adhesives, solvents and spray paints, seeking to impose corresponding fines to unregistered retailers and to those who sell these products illegally, especially to minors.

The bill prohibits the sale of toluene-based products by any person, natural or judicial, without first obtaining the proper license of such products from the city or municipal government exercising jurisdiction over the area where the products are to be sold.

Police Action And Rehabilitation

He said the role of the police in solving the problem is only limited to enforcement. However, he added that to supplement the efforts of other agencies the police have conducted support to advocacy programs. “Cebu City Police Office is perhaps the only police office throughout the country that has established a rehabilitation center (Community Scouts) and as supported by the city government so far,” he added.

The police official said the children’s parents could also be held responsible for their children’s offense through involuntary commitment. Instead of filing charges against children sniffing rugby, he said their parents will be held liable.

Comendador said that despite the problem on the lack of temporary for these wayward kids, they will still continue their campaign against rugby-sniffing. He said that the campaign is to prevent street kids from becoming future snatchers, armed robbers and other criminals.

Apolonio said that as of this moment, they have around 140 patients in their rehab center but there is only one case of rugby dependent.

He said that though the rugby abuse is a problem of the city and children using it could be seen all over, they have only one because there are no petitioners for the rugby dependents to be rehabilitated.

He explained that to be rehabilitated, there should be a petitioner like a family member. But since the kids in the streets do not live with their parents or have anyone looking after them, they can not force the kids to be rehabilitated.

According to Apolonio, rugby addicts if rehabilitated in their center would go through the same process with the other patients.

He said that usual eclectic process would be applied, which he explains as- a little of everything.

The patients would go through spiritual and moral recovery and therapeutic programs.

He also said that it is important to go back and teach the patients values like respect and responsibility which would help them when they would be going out of the center.

Apolonio also explained the importance of teaching the patience programs that they could be busy with when they are finished with the rehabilitation like livelihood programs, and skills in computer and culinary. “Kung wala kasing ituturo, babalik sila sa paggamit kung wala silang magagawa.”

Aside from these, patients would also need psychological evaluation and assessment of their problems like in their families.

“The best thing that could be done for them is show them the best things in life,” He added.

Sources: www.doh.gov.ph, www.cibac.org, www.sanpablocity.net, www.senate.gov.ph, www.wikipedia.org, www.international.drugabuse.gov – THE FREEMAN

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