Working together for a drug-free Philippines
Working together for a drug-free Philippines
Franz Jessen (The Philippine Star) - July 23, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Earlier this month I travelled to Tarlac to visit the Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for former drug users. The facility is a fully operational outpatient recovery clinic, the first out of six pilot sites identified by the Department of Health. Others will open in Pasay City, Cebu and Mindoro as well as Compostela Valley and Ifugao. I am pleased that all of them will receive European Union support through our cooperation with the DOH. By now, the clinic in Tarlac has reached a total of 110 patients and has currently 35 active cases. In addition, more than 1,400 patients have already been assessed at the clinic.

From the very beginning, the European Union has supported this program as we recognized the severity of the drug problem in the Philippines. We offer practical support to the efforts of the government in seeking to reduce the drug dependency, and the demand for, drugs. The first time I met President Duterte, a little more than two years ago, he spoke about the extent of the drug problem in the Philippines, and his vision of a drug-free Philippines.

In Europe too, we are not immune from drug problems, and for the past several decades we tried several different models to fight drug use in the EU. While using a variety of different models, all Member States fully agree that turning drug users away from drugs is a complicated process, where success depends not only on the individual, but also on the support that he, or she, gets from professionals, family and friends.

At first, the Tarlac clinic struggled to attract patients. But that has changed as the methodology used in the clinic, and the results achieved, are better understood and recognized, the interest in joining the treatment has increased.

The clinic now also notices an increase in patients, which is linked to the new partnership between the Recovery Clinic Management and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

In April 2018, the recovery clinic team was invited to gatherings of the Association of Barangay Captains. Most of the gatherings were also attended by the mayor, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Barangay Health Office, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Philippine National Police (PNP). One must note an increase in the appreciation by barangay captains of the recovery clinic’s capacity to deliver, as reflected in the above mentioned surge of patient referrals.

DOH representatives visited the Tarlac clinic in May 2018. They were impressed with the professionalism of the recovery clinic and would like the model to be rolled out to other provinces. It is clearly understood that the recovery clinic is a voluntary confidential pathway complementary to the already existing compulsory treatment centers. DOH is now seeking to finalize the standard operating procedures and clinical guidelines.

A DOH Administrative Order, “Guidelines for the Establishment of Community Based Recovery Clinics for Persons Who Use Drugs,” is expected to be approved soon.

In May this year I visited the clinic for the first time and had an in-depth discussion with the staff, including the psychologists and medical staff as well as with the PNP. I was impressed by the commitment of everyone, who took personal pride in succeeding in turning former drug addicts to a life without drugs. The discussions with the personnel and PNP in Tarlac made me want to understand better the personal motivation and situation of the former drug addicts. Thus, I decided to return to Tarlac earlier this month to visit some of the current patients and also to talk with Governor Susan Yap.

In July, during my second visit, I had the pleasure not only to meet the governor but also to meet a number of mayors. Everyone was fully committed to reduce the drug problem in their constituencies. Fortunately they have suffered slightly less from this grave issue then more urbanized provinces. The governor and mayors were all fully committed to tackling the problem. They were keen on working together with the recovery clinic, eager to understand the methodology behind, as well as hearing about European experiences.

I grew up in Europe in a small town at a time when drug use exploded, and I have seen up close how drugs led my classmates into committing their first crime. How later on, some faced death, way too early, again as a result of drug use. It was heartbreaking for me to see kids changing from being good friends into almost unrecognizable drug users within just a few years.

I also saw that for some of them, what triggered their déroute was a problem at home – divorce of their parents or a death in the family or a lack of success in school. These issues that should be manageable became insurmountable for some of the kids, so instead they turned to drugs. At the time, and still today, I felt that the drug use was such a waste of talent, leading to the destruction of otherwise promising futures, and that with a little extra effort some of those kids, some of those former friends, could have gotten back on track for a normal life.

While in Tarlac, I visited a number of families who had someone going to the recovery clinic. The families were mostly poor, their homes simple and their lives simple. Some of the people I met had been to jail, two or three years for drug offenses. The ones going to the clinic were all on the drug lists. What struck me in these conversations was the stated acceptance by the former drug addicts that they understood that they needed help to change their ways, and also the very clear understanding of how vulnerable they were. Within the families I also saw how in some cases the older generation insisted that they had been unaware of the drug use by the younger family members. This point underscored the importance of involving the families in the recovery efforts.

At the end of my visit I was heartened by the progress and by the hope that the staff in the Tarlac recovery clinic had brought to the people I met; as well as the active support which the clinic receives from both the central and local governments.

The visit showed me how the Philippines is able to make progress, and how even most disadvantaged groups can move and are moving towards better lives.

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