Recommendations to the President of the Philippines about how to address drug problems in a meaningful way – or a recipe to improve drug policy.
In spite of condemnation from the UN and uproar from the international media, President Duterte is committed to waging his war on drugs – a war that has already taken hundreds of lives. He has also challenged the UN to recommend actions on how to stop the drug menace in the country. Well, this is not rocket science, here are a few recommendations from us!
First of all – like it or not, Mr President – you need to accept that there is no silver bullet for the drug problem – nothing that is capable of creating a so-called drug-free society. The use of mind-altering substances is not something you can easily eradicate – not even by killing your own young people. When the Thai government, more than ten years ago, killed thousands of people in the name of the drug war, the result was a reduction in drug supply – but it was a very mild and temporary reduction, and the market soon recovered. Is that worth killing so many people for?
This market is generated and maintained by the demand for drugs: Blocking supply cannot end drug use. What you can and should do is to “fight this menace“ by creating a coordinated and comprehensive set of interventions – that is, drug policies. And remember, you cannot measure success by immediate and dramatic results. What really works often needs time, and the results are not as immediately obvious as we might like.
You need prevention programs targeting schools, families, workplaces and dance clubs. And I’m not taliking about those fearmongering campaigns in the mass media, that try to scare the shit out of young people by demonising drugs – or about policemen in uniform giving lectures to schoolchildren, or random mandatory drug testing. What really works in prevention is not just providing information on the dangers of drugs, but creating a safe space for the interactive exchange of reality-based information between credible educators and kids, building skills for making healthy decisions, and strengthening community values and norms.
You should provide access to voluntary treatment and social rehabilitation programs for those who really need it. Compulsory treatment programs do not work. To achieve a real personal transformation – some call it recovery – you need motivation. You may be surprised how many people with drug-dependence problems are willing to attend programs voluntarily, if these programs treat them as human beings, rather than as criminals! Creating jobs, housing, and education opportunities for young people is the best weapon against organised crime.
It is time to support harm reduction programs, such as needle and syringe programs and opiate substitution. I know that these programs already exist in your country, despite continuous political attacks and lack of funding. HIV is increasing at an alarming rate in your country! It is incredibly important to keep young people alive and healthy, to fight HIV and hepatitis infections and overdose deaths.
It is not always simple to find solutions to local problems. Luckily, the Philippines have a vibrant civil society and all you have to do is to listen to them. By considering the communities most affected by drug problems as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, you will be successful!