Former Drug Users Turn a New Leaf

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  • President Rodrigo Duterte vows to end the illegal drug problem in the Philippines within three to six months, a campaign promise he made and a relentless war he is willing to wage against drug pushers and users. Within his first 100 days in office more than 700,000 drug users and pushers surrendered while over 1,300 drug suspects were killed in more than 23,000 drug-related police operations since July of last year.

    But the drug war in the Philippines does not come without a cost. President Duterte keeps on telling stories to the Filipino people about how illegal drugs like shabu can destroy a person’s health and way of thinking, a problem that should really be addressed through professional medical approach and not through force and violence.

    With the government’s relentless war against illegal drugs there has been an influx of drug dependents that are not just voluntarily surrendering to the police but also submitting themselves to various rehabilitation programs. But as the number of drug dependents rise do we have enough health facilities and drug rehabilitation centers in the country?

    The Department of Health (DOH) Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (TRC) in Taguig City, currently the biggest drug rehabilitation center in the Philippines, currently houses more than 1,400 patients—almost triple from its original capacity of 550 patients.  How did President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign affect the number of patients who come to the DOH Treatment and Rehabilitation Center?

    “It has a very big effect on us. Our rehabilitation center actually has a 550 bed capacity as authorized by the Department of Health. But previously on any given day we were already having 1,000 cases on any given time and we have the man power for 1,000 patients. When the anti-drug campaign started the number of our patients increased and right now we have more than 1,400 patients and it even peaked at 1,500 patients and it has put a strain in our dormitories and also on the staff. But we have reacted to it by putting in more dormitories and we are in the process of hiring more people and funds, supplies have also been coming in. More importantly for those that are not really heavily addicted they can go into a community based program. Community based programs would entail the institution of support services, livelihood projects and programs, community service and of course the monitoring of the patients,” said Dr. Bienvenido Leabres, Addiction Medicine Specialist, DOH-TRC.

    Who will be the best candidate for this program of the DOH-TRC? Leabres explained that first and foremost it is very important to make an assessment of a patient. The DOH has already trained more than 100 doctors in the National Capital Region (NCR) alone to be able to access the patients. One must also take into account the patient’s level of drug use. Are they just experimenters, are they occasional users? Or have there been changes in the brain called neuro adaptation that makes them become a drug dependent.

    “You should also look at other factors. A severe family or work related disruption. Physical or mental activities related to drug use and also similar related activities. Now all these factors come into play and it will now determine if a patient is fit to undergo an outpatient program or he should go into a more rigid program which is a rehabilitation center,” said Dr. Leabres.

    What are the more common substances being abused by the patients who submit themselves to the rehabilitation programs of the DOH-TRC?  “The most common substances that you see here right now is methamphetamine or what we call shabu. There is also marijuana or cannabis. For those people in the high end of the population the go for cocaine and ecstasy. There are also those who prefer sniffing glue, rugby or solvent,” Dr. Leabres explained.

    Jake is one of the patients housed in DOH-TRC. Like many of the new patients admitted to the rehabilitation center in Taguig City, Jake surrendered to the police initiative called Oplan Tukhang. How did Jake end up in the DOH-TRC?

    “Noong ipinalabas yung Oplan Tukhang pinasusuko nga yung mga drug pushers at drug users. Bente anyos ako nung natuto ako gumamit ng shabu. Noong una hindi ko alam yung masama na maidudulot ito sa katawan ko at pagiisip ko. Kasi nung time na iyon puro kasiyahan alam ko dahil ang nagturo sa akin na gumamit ng shabu ay mga barkada ko. Pero dumating ang time na lumalala na ang paggamit ko ng shabu at pati ang pamilya ko ay nadadamay na rin. Kapag humihingi ako ng pera sa asawa ko o magulang ko at hindi nila ako pinagbibigyan ay nagagalit ako. Kaunting kibo mainit ang ulo ko. Ang nagagawa ko na hindi saktan ang magulang ko at mga kapatid ko o asawa ko nagagawa kong saktan kasi sa kagustuhan na makagamit ako ng shabu,” explained Jake.

    Jake’s story of how he became addicted to shabu and how he was hoping to recover from his drug nightmare is a common narrative of most of the patients in the DOH-TRC. But the challenge of recovery always goes secondary. Jake said that living away from his family is the most difficult part of undergoing drug rehabilitation.

    Once a patient has been qualified to undergo the rehabilitation program at the DOH-TRC, what kind of time frame is he looking forward to complete the entire program? “The actual program takes two years and we have divided it into three phases. The first phase is the detoxification and withdrawal management of the patient which entails the removal of the chemicals from the body and helping the body adjust to a milieu without any substances in the system. After this we now go into the second phase which is the rehabilitation program which entails a psychosocial aspect of rehabilitation wherein we deal with the person himself, his community, his environment and also his behaviour. It takes about six months for the second phase. After six months the patient is sent home for him to reintegrate back into society and the family. They have to go into an aftercare program so that they can assimilate the new system within them. This entails a period of 18 months and it covers a regular follow-up with our outpatient and aftercare program. They also undergo activities like seminars, counselling and stress management,” said Dr. Leabres.

    Jake on the other hand is devoting all his time and effort in order to recover quickly.  Has the various programs of the DOH-TRC helped in his recovery from drug addiction? “Nakakatulong ang mga programa nila sa pag-recover ko at eksakto sa pangangatawan at pagiisip ko kung ano ang pinagawa namin dito sa pangaraw-araw. Tulad sa paggising sa madaling araw kasi sa labas ng rehab center hindi ko nagagawa na gumising ng madaling araw. Dati ginagawa ko ay pag tulog sa gabi gumigising rin ako ng gabi. Dito sa rehab center pag gising sa umaga mag roroll call kami at pagkatapos ng roll call ay maliligo kami na hindi ko rin ginagawa sa labas kasi ginagawa ko noon ay tulog ng tulog. Kumakain kaming lahat ng sabay sabay at pagkatapos naming kumain ng sabay sabay ng almusal at pagkatapos ng almusal ay job function uli, mga activities at seminar. Para kaming mga bata na tinuturuan na maging mabuting tao at kayang sumunod,” Jake explained.

    Jake looks forward to the day that he will be declared free—free from drug addiction and free to be with his family again. “Inaasahan ko lang na paglabas ko dito sa rehab center ay tangapin uli ako ng magulang ko, ng asawa ko. Hindi ko masasabi na matatanggal ko kaagad. Pero pipilitin ko na tanggalin sa katawan ko at baguhin ko ang paguugali ko sa dati. Kaya nga ako nandito sa rehab center na ito ay maibalik ang dati kong pagkatao, ang dati kong sarili na nawala sa labas dahil sa paggamit ng droga,” said Jake.

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