POSTSCRIPT / November 11, 2018 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Mayor must be first in line for drug test

INSTEAD of subjecting grade school pupils to mandatory drug testing, all officials from President Duterte down to the last barangay captain should set the example by being the first to be examined for traces of prohibited narcotics.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency is pressing an administration plan for compulsory drug testing in elementary schools starting with Grade-4 pupils, most of whom are at the tender age of 10.

At P200 per student, that would require an outlay of P2.8 billion, according to estimates of the Department of Education. If teachers are included, as some quarters propose, the bill would go as high as P4 billion. Still hidden from view is the lucky contractor or supplier.

Since the drug-obsessed Duterte administration seems bent on mandatory testing for grade school kids, we propose that government officials — from the President down to the last barangay captain — have themselves tested first. We see no good reason why they should not.

After all, Duterte has expressed famously a desire that in a pleasurable situation where those involved line up for action, the Mayor should be first.

Mandatory inclusion of all elective and appointive officials in the drug testing should be great news to the contractor or supplier since the expanded coverage would bloat the costs beyond Dengvaxia proportions.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo in his press briefing Thursday endorsed as a “good idea” the mandatory drug testing of Grade-4 students and above.

His endorsement followed a Social Weather Stations survey report that 51 percent of respondents supported the testing plan, with 36 percent disagreeing and 13 percent being undecided.

Justifying the plan, he said: “There is a drug menace in this country – that will be the basis. Parens patriae doctrine is another, the state is responsible for the safety of the citizens… (Because) that is for the benefit of the family, I think all parents would welcome that.”

That conclusion of universal approval looked shaky if based on the SWS survey. To serve as a reliable basis, the poll should have had as sample only the parents of the Grade-4 (and up) pupils targeted for testing, instead of a universal crowd of adults.

Panelo, who is also the President’s chief legal counsel, opined that there is no need to amend the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA 9165) which allows random drug testing for high school and college students.

It should have been pointed out in the briefing that RA 9165 talks of random, not compulsory, testing for high school and tertiary students, not grade school pupils. There should also be required written parental consent.

The education department already initiated last year a drug testing program covering 1,300 personnel in its central office, 3,800 in the regional offices, 26,000 in schools’ division offices, and a sample of 10,000 teachers and 21,000 high school students.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the objective was to determine the prevalence of drug use among students and to assess the effectiveness of school-based and community-based prevention programs.

While the public waits for President Duterte and other executives to line up for drug tests, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and five other senators took it and tested negative. The senators were Juan Miguel Zubiri, Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Antonio Trillanes IV.

On July 30, more than 300 Senate employees were also subjected to the surprise random mandatory drug testing. The results have not been announced.

 New opioid 10x more potent than fentanyl

THE UNITED States Food and Drug Administration has approved a new opioid formulation called Dsuvia that is 10 times more powerful than fentanyl, the synthetic opioid implicated in the 72,000 drug overdose deaths in the US in 2017.

Fentanyl, which President Duterte has admitted having overused in patch form, is about 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Because of the strength of fentanyl, even a small amount can lead to an overdose or death.

HuffingtonPost reported Friday that the newly approved formulation of Dsuvia is a tablet that goes under the tongue. Hospitals have administered the drug in IV and epidural forms for decades.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, said the Dsuvia tablet’s delivery device, which is a single-dose applicator, would only be used in medical settings. He cited its potential military use for pain medication on the battlefield, where IV use is impractical or impossible.

Critics of the new opioid have warned that it would likely be abused. Even the chairman of the FDA advisory committee that approved it has spoken out against the decision.

Dr. Raeford Brown, who could not attend the advisory meeting, wrote to Gottlieb and the FDA in October, urging the agency not to approve what he called the “extremely divertible drug,” meaning it was likely to find its way from medical centers to the street.

Brown said in his letter: “I predict that we will encounter diversion, abuse, and death within the early months of its availability on the market.”

Dr. Anna Lembke, chief of the Stanford University Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic, stressed that hospitals already have many ways to administer opioids and do not need another, particularly when weighed against the potential risks of the potent new formulation.

She added: “There is no need for another opioid on the market, particularly one as potentially lethal as Dsuvia. In the midst of the worst opioid epidemic in US history, the FDA seems to be operating in a vacuum, without regard for optics or public health.”

HuffingtonPost reported that four Democratic senators ― Edward Markey (D-Ma.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) ― opposed the drug’s approval.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 11, 2018)

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