Friday, July 24, 2009

Why we can't solve the drug problem

This was my column last Wednesday.  Late post. Sorry.

Like everyone else, I am also deeply concerned—alarmed, in fact—that we seem poised to become the next drug capital of the world. I am sure there are people out there who would accuse me of being alarmist—we’re not Mexico or Colombia, they probably are muttering to themselves. Well, not yet. But does anyone ever doubt our innate ability, our inherent ingenuity, to achieve any distinction that suggests fame or infamy?

Besides, God knows we have all the right ingredients, and in huge quantities at that, to produce whatever man-made disaster imaginable: Corrupt politicians and leaders, a growing drug abuse problem, poverty, and collective penchant for being reactive rather than being proactive.

The drug problem of the country has been there for quite sometime already; it’s definitely not something that cropped up yesterday. Rumors of celebrities using shabu (Meth also known as poor man’s cocaine) can be traced to as far back as the early 1990s. Although shabu markets became a fad only recently, proof that the manufacturing of the prohibited substance has already been happening in the country, they were already available as early as the early 1990s. Sure, many of these shabu factories got raided and were forcibly closed down but it is not a far-fetched assumption that for every factory shut down, there are at least three more that are still operational.

Drug use is so widespread in this country. I’ve talked to people who have been to parties attended by the so-called who’s who in this country and where the main attraction was a buffet of drugs readily available for the taking. The spread, I am told, ranges from marijuana, to shabu, to ecstacy, to Ketamine, to cocaine, to various concoctions that are turned into injectibles. Some bars are notorious for being virtual drug dens and it is precisely this reputation that draws in the crowds.

I’ve become aware of the extent of our drug problem because of my work in HIV/AIDS prevention. Drug use has been proven as the vector of HIV transmission in other countries. It is easy to imagine why—when one is high, one’s vulnerability also increases algebraically as one becomes more daring and uninhibited. From what I know, drug use is already widespread and has been noted in various key cities of the country, not just in Metro Manila.

The important question that needs to be answered is: What are we really doing to stop the drug menace? We’ve had lots of opportunities—and in the past, the luxury of time—to lick the problem. But instead of reducing the extent of the problem, it now seems as if it has even spread like wildfire. It now seems uncontrollable.

Anyone with half a mind can actually cite the reasons why we have been unsuccessful in licking the drug problem. First, there’s a lack of political will to really go after the big-time manufacturers and pushers. Second, and this is a natural extension of the first reason cited above —corruption is also so widespread in our country and it is a foregone conclusion that the big-time manufacturers, pushers and importers of drugs are under the protection of some powerful people in this country. If we really come to think about it, how else are they able to operate and wreck havoc in this country if they didn’t have political and police connections?

The rest of the reasons are secondary. Sure, the drug problem is also largely a social problem and therefore one that requires community or family interventions. What is imperative, though, is that we first cut the supply. If there is nothing to sell, there will be no pushers.

At the Senate hearing called to unravel the sex video scandal last month (how come we have Senate hearings on sex videos but has not had any on the more serious drug problem?) drug use was offered as an excuse for perversity. The sociologists and the other psychologists in this country have already offered their two cents on the connection between drug use and certain sexual fetishes but what amazed me was the rather nonchalant way in which the senators reacted to the drug use angle. They did ask who supplied the drugs but I got the impression that the questioning was being pursued more because they wanted to find out who among the protagonists was a worse influence than the other.

And recently, the problem has just acquired another complication. A young girl, allegedly the daughter of a police narcotics officers, was abducted, drugged, and raped allegedly as a form of retaliation by a drug syndicate. The crime is chilling because it illustrates just what drug syndicates are capable of doing and will actually do to prove a point, including using the life of an innocent girl as pawn in a high-stake game.

As if things were not complicated enough, here now come certain sectors using the tragedy as fodder for efforts to revive the death penalty in the country. The death penalty debate was something that raged for quite some time in the recent past and it was a relief when it finally got settled with the abolition of the penalty. But unfortunately people don’t really accept defeat in this country; they simply wait for a more opportune time when conditions are ripe to advance their cause once again.

I am not going to repeat the various arguments that illustrate why the death penalty is not a deterrent to criminality. But I will say this unequivocally: It is a pointless debate because even if for some reason proponents of the death penalty does succeed in resurrecting death penalty as punishment, I strongly believe such a penalty will not and cannot be implemented. It will only result in having more death convicts who end up serving life sentences instead. This is because I doubt if there are leaders who will allow a convict from being killed through lethal injection during his or her watch.

The death penalty issue is a side issue that threatens to deflect focus from the real issues around our drug problem. As usual, it seems we’re all going to be caught up in the static once again. There’s another reason why we can’t solve many of our problems—we seem to have collective attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. We hyperventilate at the slightest provocation and are unable to focus on the real issues.

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