We in the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) oppose the current approach of criminalizing drug use, with its attendant programs that vilify drug users, violate human rights, and disregard legal and due process. Criminalizing drug users has been shown in other countries to be ineffective in solving the drug addiction problem.
We present the following evidence and inferences from psychological, clinical, and social science research:
- Addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental disorder (DSM-5, 2013). It is defined by the Philippine Mental Health Law as a “primary chronic relapsing disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry” (Sec. 4.a., RA 11036).
- While SUD is a serious and complex problem that is caused and maintained by multiple factors (Klostermann and Kelley, 2016), people can recover from and manage their addiction with appropriate treatment and support (UNODC, 2003; NIDA, 2014). Addiction can be successfully dealt with using both residential and non-residential or community approaches (DOH “Manual of Operations for Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers”, 2003).
- High relapse rates may be due to the lack of a systemic approach that addresses poverty and extreme economic deprivation (e.g., Robins & Ratcliff,1979), as well as the proliferation of centers that do not use evidence-based approaches and that do not address relapse prevention, family support, and aftercare.
- The approach of criminalizing drug use violates the human rights of drug users and runs counter to the prevailing scientific view of addiction that is articulated in the new Mental Health Law. The United Nations and international human rights organizations have condemned this approach (hrw.org, 2018; Gavilan, 2017).
- The criminalization approach distorts ordinary citizens’ and law enforcers’ perceptions of addiction. By exposing people to frequent occurrences of “tokhang” and vigilante-style killings, it desensitizes them to violations of human rights and reinforces the view that the lives of innocent people are mere collateral damage.
- Countries that have tried the criminalization approach but have found that it ineffective have changed how they address the problem. An example is Portugal, which has now adopted strategies based on scientific evidence and which are proving to be more effective in reducing deaths due to illegal drugs and improving indicators related to different patterns of drug use by different clinical populations (Thornton, 2015; Szalavitz, 2009; see also Greenwald, 2009).
Given these, we recommend the following in place of a criminalizing approach:
1.1. Amend Republic Act of the Philippines 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, to make it more consistent with a scientific and humane approach to dealing with drug abuse problems;
- 2. Study how we could adapt and use in the Philippine context the best practices in policies and programs of countries that have effectively used a non-criminalizing approach to addiction;
- 3. Identify evidence-based and evidence-informed approaches in managing and treating SUD, and employ mental health professionals qualified to do assessment, treatment, rehabilitation and after care;
- 4. Allocate adequate funds for developing preventive community- and outpatient-based programs
- 5. Evaluate recovery facilities to ensure that service users are protected from unscientific and unethical treatment programs;
- 6. Allocate adequate funds for innovative research on addiction management;
- 7. Address social issues that perpetuate addiction, such as poverty, unemployment, etc. (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006; Barnett, 2009);
- 8. Partner with civil society groups in developing programs that support post-rehabilitation care and re-integration;
- 9. Conduct sound information dissemination campaigns to help citizens develop healthy attitudes and views regarding addiction;
- 10. Train the police force in a humane and compassionate approach to dealing with people with problems related to SUD.
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