In a forum last Oct. 13, the Philippine Psychiatry Association (PPA) expressed its misgivings over the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (Republic Act No. 9165), saying that the said law is not solving the problem of drug addiction.
BY RITCHE T. SALGADO
CEBU CITY — In a forum last Oct. 13, the Philippine Psychiatry Association (PPA) expressed its misgivings over the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (Republic Act No. 9165), saying that the said law is not solving the problem of drug addiction.
Figures released by the Dangerous Drugs Board showed that the number of drug users in the country dramatically increased from 1.7 million in 1996 to 6.7 million in 2004. Of these, 30 percent are workers. In addition, 11,141,490 Filipinos between the ages of 10 to 44 have been found to have used drugs at least once in their lifetime.
“We have existing laws, but these have many flaws,” said Dr. Benita Sta. Ana-Ponio, founding president of the Group for Addiction Psychiatry of the Philippines and executive director of the Metro Psych Facility in Mandaue City and Metro Manila. She pointed out that the laws, instead of helping treat substance abusers, punishes them.
“Now the law looks at drug abusers as criminals, but we (as psychiatrists) see them as people who need help,” she added. “Drug addiction is a disease, and drug dependents should be treated as persons with a disease and not as criminals.”
Ponio revealed that 37 percent of substance abusers inherited the anti-social habit from their parents through their genes, while around 50 to 60 percent suffer from a mental disorder, which may have prompted them to use illegal drugs.
“Sa nakikita ko sa aming centers, aabot pa nga ng 70 percent ang may existing psychiatric condition bago naging drug addict. Pero dahil pagdating nila sa rehab may problema na sila sa drugs, their mental disease is not diagnosed because they would be exhibiting behavior expected of a drug addict. Hindi na mapansin na they are suffering from a psychiatric condition. (From what I see in our centers, as many as 70 percent have existing psychiatric conditions before becoming drug addicts. But because they already have drug problems by the time they went into rehabilitation, their mental disease is not diagnosed because they would be exhibiting behavior expected of a drug addict. It is no longer noticed that they are suffering from a psychiatric condition),” Ponio said.
She said that those who are most affected by drug abuse are patients suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
“Dati hindi sila mapakali, tapos bigla (They used to be unfocused and uncontrollable, and then suddenly) they would find a drug that would help them concentrate,” she said. This, according to Ponio, may become the positive reinforcing factor that would encourage them to use the substance continuously.
Ponio further explained that drug addicts would demonstrate behavior similar to that of patients with psychiatric problems because the part of the brain that is affected by drug use are also the parts that are commonly affected in psychiatric patients.
Ponio expressed her frustration with the existing laws on drug abuse, believing that most of these laws were crafted without consulting those involved in the treatment of drug abuse patients.
Ponio said that at present there is a law mandating every medical practitioner to submit the complete names of their patients who are found positive of using illegal substances. Ponio strongly believes that this provision violates the rule of patient-doctor confidentiality and may hinder patients from seeking medical treatment.
Ironically, Ponio said, RA 9165 has provisions that do not serve its purpose of discouraging people from resorting to substance abuse. The policy on drug testing, according to Ponio, provides drug abusers with ways to go around the law.
RA 9165 enumerates the reasons for and the individuals who should undergo drug testing. The result of the test is valid for a year.
Ponio pointed out that the active component of drugs stays in the system for at most 72 hours for casual users. She said that those who know that they will undergo the test would simply refrain from using the substance in question until after the specimen is extracted, or after traces of the substance can no longer be detected in the specimen.
And since the test result is valid for a year, Ponio said, substance abusers would just have to refrain using the drug only at the time of testing.
However, despite the numerous flaws, Ponio is optimistic that the country’s policy on drug addicts and drug addiction will soon become more effective in the treatment of drug addiction. “(The) Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) now is with the Department of Health (DoH). Kahit papa’no nare-recognize nila na (They somehow recognize that) it’s a medical concern,” she said.
But in an interview with Bulatlat, Dr. Jocelyn Abellana, who heads the mental health and drug abuse component of the DoH Region 7, said that the role of DoH in the DDB is plainly to rehabilitate the convicted drug abuser during the six months mandated by law. Still, the DDB is a separate entity usually headed by a non-medical practitioner.
Dr. Glenda Basubas-Ilano, who heads the committee on advocacy, legislation and multimedia of the PPA, admitted that currently their organization has yet to decide on the appropriate action to take, especially with regards lobbying for amendments to the current laws on drug addiction treatment.
For his part, Dr. Antonio M. Gauzon, president of the Philippine College of Addiction Medicine, is encouraging the public and concerned individuals to review RA 9165 and make appropriate recommendations on the provisions to be amended.
Gauzon said that the recommendations that they would be able to collate would be used in a consultation with Secretary Vicente C. Sotto III, who heads the DDB. (Bulatlat)