Amid the growing number of drug users who have reportedly voluntarily submitted to the authorities, Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros urged the government to stop calling drug dependents “surrenderers”, saying it criminalizes them and makes it difficult for them to rehabilitate and reintegrate back to society.
The senator explained that by ceasing to use the negative term for drug users, the government takes the first important step in treating the country’s drug problem not only as a criminal issue but also a public health concern.
“Let us stop calling drug users as ‘surrenderers.’ They are not criminals. They are patients in need of important health care services and rehabilitation programs. The government must distinguish them from hardcore drug pushers and other violent offenders,” Hontiveros said.
The neophyte senator also called on the government to study the experiences of other countries, which viewed drug addiction as a public health concern and emphasized harm reduction strategies.
“There is a need to have a multi-perspective approach in responding to the drug problem. We cannot win the war against drugs through the lens of criminal justice alone," Hontiveros explained, citing Thailand’s law enforcement-centric war on drugs where drug users reported increased reluctance to seek healthcare and Mexico, which failed to invest in treatment and harm reduction programs.
"We must combine enforcement efforts with the complete mobilization of our healthcare system to address drug abuse and addiction,” Hontiveros added.
Hontiveros also cited the example of Vietnam which acknowledged that drug use is a social problem and dependents should be provided with treatment instead of punishment. She also highlighted the experiences of Malaysia, Portugal and Netherlands.
“Malaysia is reach in experience regarding its implementation of harm reduction programs. In Portugal, the government pushed for alternative therapeutic responses to dependent drug users. Meanwhile in the Netherlands, its government has a long-standing policy to provide comprehensive medical treatment for substance abuse, instead of jail, for nonviolent offenders,” Hontiveros said.