VP Bet Ong Says War On Drugs Needs To Adopt A Public Health Approach

Detainees sit next to a mural of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte while authorities search through belongings for illegal contraband inside the Manila City Jail in metro Manila, Philippines October 16, 2017. The words on the mural read “Steer away from illegal drugs to save your life and in turn, will save the country’s” | IMG Source: Reuters

MANILA, Philippines — Dr. Willie Ong, Aksyon Demokratiko vice presidential bet and Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso’s running mate, urged the government to adopt a public health approach in its war against illegal drugs.

In a statement, Ong said drug addiction is a public health issue, citing various studies and reports that attest to the “chronic and relapsing nature” of substance abuse.

“Sa war on drugs, kailangang-kailangan ‘yung rehabilitation, ‘yung tulong sa mga drug dependents na between 2 to 3 million and estimate sa ngayon. Dapat po science-based din ang approach sa drug users,” said Ong who is a 58-year old cardiologist and internist. 

“Kailangan natin ng psychiatrist, psychologist. Kailangan din may access sa gamot para hindi na sila bumalik, addiction po ‘yan eh. Apektado ang utak ng users,” Ong pointed out. 

Moreno had said in previous statements that he will continue the war on drugs without the use of extra-judicial killings (EJKs) that characterized the Duterte administration’s “Drug War.” 

“Eliminating drugs is a priority, but it has to be done in recognition still of every individual’s human rights. There are no EJKs in Manila. Unless the suspects threatened the lives of our policemen, the suspects were properly apprehended and that their human rights were respected in the process of the entire drug operations,” Moreno had said. 

Ong also said that other countries around the world focused on the criminal aspect of drug addiction, which eventually led to the failure of their respective anti-illegal drug policies. 

“Palagay ko masyado tayong nag-focus sa law enforcement. Kung gusto natin ma-eliminate ang illegal drugs, we should treat it as a public health concern,” Ong said. 

“Kaya ‘yung UN (United Nations) nag-shift din ng mindset. Nakita nila based sa mga dialogues with scientific experts na social protection at healthcare ang lunas, hindi pagpapakulong,” he added.  

Citing recommendations from the Informal International Scientific Network to the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Ong asked the national government to heighten efforts that will eliminate stigma and discrimination toward individuals suffering from drug addiction.  

Ong said the national government should prioritize evidence‐based interventions for substance use disorders, such as behavioral therapies and medication‐assisted treatment. He also urged the public to engage in coordinated policymaking in public health, education, law enforcement, science, and healthcare systems.  

Such effort entails directing offenders to avenues for treatment, fighting drug production and trafficking, and creating  opportunities that can reform communities dependent on the drug trade, Ong explained.

“Hindi natin mareresolba ang problema sa droga kung hindi natin ito tatratuhin bilang isang public health concern. Sakaling palarin tayo at mahalal bilang Vice President, ganito natin tatratuhin ang war on drugs, hindi paghuli o pagpatay. Kailangan affordable ang healthcare para malagay sa ayos ang dating users,” Ong said.

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