In the Senate deliberation of the proposed 2018 National Government Budget on Thursday, Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros questioned the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) on the real number of drug dependents in the country.

Hontiveros said that the DDB under its former Chairperson, retired general Dionisio Santiago was using the estimate of 3-4 million drug users in the Philippines. Dionisio was reported to have admitted that the number is just a "guesstimate."

"Ilan ba talaga ang drug users sa Pilipinas? Inamin po ninyo na ang 3-4 million na numero ng drug users ay isang guesstimate lang. However, we need to be precise about these figures because they have budgetary implications, not only for your agency and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) but also for the Department of Health (DOH). We cannot plan the country's national budget based on a 'guesstimate', Hontiveros said.

The DDB's 2015 Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse showed only 1.8 million drug users. His insistence on this caused Pres Rodrigo Duterte to fire its former Chair, Benjamin Reyes, from his job.

"Unpacking the numbers"

Hontiveros said that there is a need to unpack the numbers because two previous surveys of the DDB have shown that the number of drug users tends to be quite stable, never exceeding 2 million since 2008. "Dito sa 3-4 million na drug users, ilan po dito ang dependents? Ilan ang occassional users at one-time users? Ilan po dito ang current and hard users? More than the budgetary concerns, this is also a life and death issue. We cannot judge who lives or dies based on a guesstimate," Hontiveros said.

Meanwhile, Hontiveros asked for the DDB's official position on the 10,000-bed capacity mega drug rehabilitation center at Fort Magsaysay in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija.

It was reported that Santiago called the massive facility a "mistake", "impractical" and a "miscalculation" on the part of the government. The said statements reportedly did not sit well with President Rodrigo Duterte, who asked Santiago to resign from his post.

"According to the DDB itself, only about nine per cent (9%) of over a million drug users who expressed their willingness to access treatment need to be committed in rehabilitation centers. Ninety one per cent (91%) do not need institutionalized intervention. The government response is currently limited to criminal prosecution and facility-based rehabilitation. These are clearly inadequate," Hontiveros explained.

"White elephant rehab facility"

"Instead of a white elephant rehabilitation facility, what we need are barangay-based health intervention and rehabilitation programs and centers for drug dependents to be able to provide intervention programs to respond to the assessed needs of drug dependents, which include consultation, case management, psycho-education, counseling, health and social support, relapse management, and other evidence-based health interventions and strategies," Hontiveros concluded.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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