A note on drug abuse in the Philippines

Abstract

Prior to World War II widespread drug-dependence was a phenomenon unknown in the Philippines; the last thirty-five years, however, have seen the abuse of dangerous drugs become a serious national problem. Illicit drug combines have become increasingly well-organized, and the alarming targets of these national drug syndicates seem to be for the most part students and other young people: though no definitive statistics are available, the Narcotics Division of the National Bureau of Investigation estimates that approximately 60,000 young persons are involved in drug experimentation.

Details

Author: Cesarea GODUCO-AUGLAR
Pages: 43 to 44
Creation Date: 1972/01/01

A note on drug abuse in the Philippines

Dr. Cesarea GODUCO-AUGLAR Clinical Director, National Mental Hospital, Mandaluyong, Rizal, Philippines

Prior to World War II widespread drug-dependence was a phenomenon unknown in the Philippines; the last thirty-five years, however, have seen the abuse of dangerous drugs become a serious national problem. Illicit drug combines have become increasingly well-organized, and the alarming targets of these national drug syndicates seem to be for the most part students and other young people: though no definitive statistics are available, the Narcotics Division of the National Bureau of Investigation estimates that approximately 60,000 young persons are involved in drug experimentation.

Drugs in the illicit traffic run from marijuana, LSD and various stimulants to opiates, barbiturates and tranquillizers.

The possible reasons for this increase in illicit drug usage are of course many-ranging from the familiar issue of youth discontent to the simple fact that since World War II, and in particular since 1960, there have been greater varieties of drugs on the market and these drugs have unfortunately become easily available to casual users. This paper will attempt to briefly explore the rise of drug abuse in the Philippines over the last several decades.

By studying the records of the Philippine National Mental Hospital (the hospital, located near Manila, is the only large mental institution in the country) it can be clearly seen that prior to 1935 there were virtually no incidents of drug-dependence among patients aside from a small number of barbiturate-abuse cases and a few incidents of alcohol-dependence. The alcoholic patients, furthermore, for the most part seem to have been foreigners: Drug abuse, clearly, was not a serious problem at this time.

After 1935, however, and through to the outbreak of World War II, the abuse picture changed slightly and several drug cases filtered into the hospital. For the most part these cases were connected to the overuse of prescribed medicines such as Demerol, but there were also at the time a number of patients addicted to opium, 98% of them coming from the Chinese population. In addition, cases of therapeutic addiction to bromides and barbiturates among in-patients and out-patients also increased during this period. Alcohol-dependence, however, remained only a minor problem, with only one-half of one per cent of the hospital's three thousand patients being classified as alcoholics.

After World War II and on through to 1960 the number of addicts to opiates and barbiturates increased slightly once again, and, in addition, there seems to have been a fairly sharp rise in the number of therapeutic addictions. The reason for this increase may lie in the fact that during this period many new tranquillizing drugs were introduced into medical circles and were used locally on a large scale: treatment of mental patients with drugs such as those in the phenothiazine group (chlorpromazine (thorazine), triflupromazine (vesprin), perphenazine (trilafen), stetazine, thioridazine (melleril), and fluphenazine (prolixin) began to overshadow traditional treatments like insulin or electro-shock therapy.

Aside from these major tranquillizers, minor tranquillizers such as meprobomate, diazepam (Valium), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), and Sinequan soon came to be widely prescribed for less severe disturbances-depressions and anxieties, and other emotional disorders. Also used for various forms of psychotic or neurotic depression were the tricylic antidepressants (exemplified by amytryptiline and imipramine).

Though these new drugs were of undeniable value, their widespread prescription invevitably increased the incidence of dependence on them both among the hospital's in-patients and out-patients, and also of course among former patients. It is difficult, however, to state the exact numbers involved nationally, as addiction statistics in different cities are not easily available.

While addiction during the decade immediately following World War II seems to have been limited for the most part to therapeutic addicts (though of course opiate-addiction and other forms of drug-dependence did turn up occasionally), there seems to have occurred in the last ten years (1960-1970) an alarming across-the-board increase in the abuse of all principal illicit drugs. In addition to the recent report by the Chief of the Narcotics Division stating that 60,000 young people are currently involved in drug experimentation, the National Mental Hospital and related treatment centres in other regions of the Philippines have treated numerous patients for dependence on a great variety of drugs: heroin, morphine, cocaine, amphetamine, barbiturates, tranquillizers have all made appearances. The patients have come from various socio-economic backgrounds, some being able to pay their own hospital fees and others being taken as charity cases. One treatment centre, located at Tagaytay City and run by the National Bureau of Investigation, currently houses about eighty addicts, most of them being labourers from Tondo, a slum area of Manila. The majority of the patients at Tagaytay had been dependent on morphine and heroin.

Aside from these cases which require hospitalization and rehabilitation, ten to twenty students and young people come to the attention of the Narcotics Division every day due to marijuana abuse.

This increase in the abuse of marijuana by students (as well as the occasional abuse of stimulants and hallucinogens like LSD) seems to have occurred for a diversity of reasons ranging from the simple desire for experimentation to deep-rooted feelings of frustation and boredom. There is also the belief in some quarters that many local young people are prone to follow their western contemporaries in regard to fashion and lifestyle, and thus have become curious about drugs because of the great attention apparently given them by some segments of the Western youth population. It is possible that the occasional LSD-abuse among local students is a result of this respect for western trends. (LSD, however, has also been used at the National Mental Hospital in the experimental treatment of mentally-ill patients.)

Because the main drug of abuse among students seems to be marijuana, there are some indications that in order to meet the student demand some local dealers are resorting to growing their own supplies-this despite the fact that cannabis cultivation, like the cultivation of opium-poppy and coca bush, is illegal in the Philippines. Cannabis plantations have been found in the Manila area as well as in Caloocan City, Quezon City, Las Pinas, Rizal, and Cavite. There also seem to be some plantations on neighbouring islands such as Negros, the Bicol Region, Mindanao, and Central Luzon. To suppress this illicit cultivation narcotics police have made several raids.

Aside from the drift toward local cannabis cultivation, there have been some reports that various drugs are now being processed and manufactured in illicit local laboratories. Information in regard to this trend is scanty but nevertheless it seems to add yet another new facet to the growing problem of drug abuse in the Philippines.

Thus we have briefly seen how drug abuse in the Philippines has grown from a minor phenomenon to a problem of the first priority: the number of abusers has grown from a handful of therapeutic addicts to a total now estimated in the tens of thousands. Most of the new abusers seem to be young people, and they are employing an ever expanding variety of drugs. Part of the problem, undeniably, seems to lie in the changing character of Filipino youth: local young people seem to have become more restless in recent years, more "revolutionary", and increasingly eager for new experiences.

To meet the challenge of the drug abuse problem several measures, both private and governmental, are being taken. Violators of narcotic laws who make known to the authorities the fact of their addiction and their desire to be cured are referred to the Addiction Institute of the National Bureau of Investigation so that they may undergo treatment and rehabilitation. The cure programme includes detoxification, psychiatric help, vocational guidance, recreational therapy and follow-up domiciliary care. The Addiction Institute maintains comprehensive case histories of volunteer patients and of convicted addicts, and these records are becoming increasingly useful to medical staff and to other workers in the narcotics field. The records may at some time in the future serve as guidelines for actions to be taken in combating the addiction problem.

On another front, a new organization-the Narcotic Foundation of the Philippines-has recently been formed. This is a private association not related to Government institutions and treatment centres; its aims are to raise funds for the treatment and reorientation of young addicts, and to educate the public against the dangers of drug addiction. It is to be hoped that the efforts made by this newly-founded organization, along with the efforts of the Addiction Institute and other interested bodies, will help the country to eventually cope with the alarming growth in local drug abuse.