THE SHARP difference in the approaches of Presidents Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump to the drug abuse crises – of shabu in the Philippines and of opioids in the United States – can be attributed to personal aberrations.
But the two leaders might still find it fruitful to compare notes on how to tame the drug abuse epidemics raging in their respective countries when they meet for the first time in mid-November in Manila and possibly days earlier in Vietnam.
Duterte attacks the trafficking and abuse of shabu (methamphetamine) in the Philippines mainly as a police problem, while Trump confronts the US-wide flood of opioids – such as heroin, fentanyl, Percocet, and OxyContin — as a public health emergency.
The US opioid crisis is said to claim daily some 150 lives, mainly medical cases. Compare that number to the Philippine drug-related kill record which – depending on who does the counting – is between 3,500 and 13,000 gunned down in the past 15 months of police operations.
When the two leaders hold their side-summit dialogs, we hope Trump can impresses upon his counterpart the efficacy of using a more humane and holistic approach to the narcotic problem, instead of letting personal idiosyncrasies dictate public health policy.
The US President is expected to be careful not to have his statements or moves interpreted as endorsing perceived human rights violations associated with Duterte’s drug war.
Note that the “Kill! Kill! Kill!” (instead of “Heal! Heal! Heal!) focus of the Philippine National Police has not set back drug trafficking in the country. On the contrary, it was Duterte’s approval rating that has suffered because of it.
Latest surveys show that majority of Filipinos disapprove of the killing spree, bewailing that most of the victims came from the poor, and due process routinely violated. Some sectors that used to just watch quietly the grisly drug war have started to speak up.
Compounding the local negative perception of the extra-judicial executions, a number of countries, plus some human rights advocacy groups abroad, have added to the pressure for the administration to return to the rule of law and respect for human rights.
• Trump can ask Duterte re fentanyl
IN THEIR talks, Trump may want to ask Duterte’s personal experience with fentanyl [generic name], one of several potent painkillers whose abuse has resulted in the rising cases of opioid deaths noted in the declaration Thursday of a US public health emergency.
Duterte himself has mentioned in his impromptu speeches that he had been using fentanyl, raising concern that his health may be affected and tell on his performance as president.
He has not explained why he was taking fentanyl, a super pain-killer that the National Institute on Drug Abuse warns is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.
He recalled that one time, his doctor took back the prescription medicine, because he was supposed to divide the fentanyl into four and use it a quarter at a time, but he was using all of it – resulting in a scary overdose.
Duterte did not specify in what form he was taking the drug, but sources said he had used a fentanyl patch plastered on the skin for 72 hours at a time. It was not clear if he is still using it. The potent patch is not meant to relieve just mild pain or pain that goes away in a few days. Neither is it for use “as needed.”
Fentanyl comes under various brands in such other forms as a pill, injectable, spray, etc. It helps relieve severe pain (such as that due to cancer). It belongs to a group known as opioid (narcotic) analgesics. It works in the brain to alter how the body feels and responds to pain.
Fentanyl overdose, dependency or complications when taken with contraindicated drugs, could be fatal or enough to disturb a person’s bearing, breathing, pulse rate, mood and such signs. Sudden or unsupervised withdrawal could also trigger restlessness, watering eyes, runny nose, nausea, sweating, and muscle aches.
When Trump declared the opioid emergency, he said the Food and Drug Administration had asked that one “especially high-risk opioid” be withdrawn from the market immediately. He did not name it.
Trump also disclosed he would take up with China President Xi Jinping the issue of Chinese-produced fentanyl, which is blamed for many of around 60,000 overdose-related deaths a year in the US. He said: “I’ll mention this as a top priority, and he’ll do something about it.”
• Atienza warns vs medical marijuana
IN THE HOUSE of Representatives, Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza urged his colleagues to throw out the bill legalizing medical marijuana, warning that the measure could create a public health emergency like the US opioid crisis.
“What is happening now in America is guaranteed to happen here once we allow local physicians to prescribe medical marijuana,” Atienza, the senior deputy minority leader, said. “It will open the floodgates to abuse and addiction.”
He explained: “The measure will create new demand for marijuana. And when there is demand, supply will come in. Farmers will start cultivating marijuana, since they will be assured of a lucrative market by a rapidly growing number of addicts.”
The House committee on health has recommended approval of the proposed “Act Providing Filipinos Right of Access to Medical Marijuana” (HB 6517). Floor debates are expected to begin when the House reconvenes on Nov. 20.
Atienza warns: “The susceptibility to abuse far outweighs the unproven benefits of allowing prescription marijuana, which is a poison. No amount of sugar-coating will make the illegal drug less toxic.”
He said that even the US FDA had rejected medical marijuana, declaring after a scientific and medical evaluation that it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment, that there is no accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and that it has a high potential for abuse.”