Address Illegal Drug Use through Health Interventions
We, the members of the Medical Action Group (MAG), a health and human rights organization composed of medical doctors, health and allied medical professionals and workers, medical & health sciences students committed to the promotion and protection of the peoples' right to health, welcome the government’s firm resolve to eliminate the widespread use and trafficking of illegal drugs in the country.
As health professionals, we recognize the adverse effects of illegal drug use especially on the youth. We are also fully aware that illegal drug use and trade have destroyed the lives and future of individuals as well as families and communities.
We believe that illegal drug use happens in almost all communities and associated with substantial health and social problems. It is primarily a public health issue with poverty at the root of this serious and widespread phenomenon. MAG stresses the importance of providing treatment and rehabilitation, ensuring access to essential health goods and services, education and decent employment as the necessary conditions to eliminate this drug menace. Rehabilitation is a companion measure to the government’s intensive anti-drug campaign. With the massive number of surrenders, we can’t ignore the need for health interventions. While there are several barriers exist to the provision of health services such as the lack of treatment and rehabilitation centers nationwide due to funding problem and the available services are mainly out-of-pocket, making them unaffordable to the majority in need, concerted efforts should be made. As of now, government-run treatment facilities  are found only in the National Capital Region (NCR), Caraga Region and Regions I, IV-A, V, VI, VII, X and XI. All in all, there are only 42 drug rehabilitation centers nationwide that can cater for only 5,000 patients. Of the 42 drug rehabilitation centers, 14 are state-run while the rest are privately operated. The community and family can definitely help through the establishment of community-based programs, drug after care or local support interventions for out-patients.
While we support the government’s intention to make the public safe from the harm of illegal drugs but it should not put the country in greater harm by allowing the proliferation of violence. We express our deep concern over the spate of killings as a result of the ongoing government's "war on drugs" campaign. As of October 2016, more than 4,000 people who were suspected drug users and pushers were reportedly killed either by the police operatives during buy bust operations and police raids and those who were already under the police custody or by vigilantes who were either acting in behalf of the police or simply settling a score.
The "war on drugs" cannot be conducted with shortcuts on the rules of procedure by blatantly disregarding and violating the rights of individuals, foremost of which are the rights to life, due process and freedom from torture, cruel and inhuman treatment and punishment. Drug users and/or peddlers are human with rights. Like all of us, anyone accused of committing a crime has the right to have a day in court.
We assert that the drug menace in the country cannot be viewed and treated simply as a law enforcement problem. Police forces cannot be allowed to arrest, detain, much more execute, individuals on the basis of mere suspicion, prior police record and unverified lists of suspected drug users and peddlers. MAG believes that violence, sowing of fear, threat and harassment are not the solution.
We therefore call on the Duterte administration to stop the killings, conduct an impartial investigation on cases of human rights violations and make accountable those who are responsible, State and non-state, of these human rights violations. The government has the opportunity to undertake comprehensive measures to address the drug menace not only by drug supply and demand reduction but through a variety of prevention, treatment, screening, and early intervention options to help drug dependents to become once again productive members of society, especially the poor and marginalized.
We believe the real change comes only when the respect to human rights and dignity of every person are guaranteed.
MEDICAL ACTION GROUP
November 21, 2016