During a lecture with my Filipino students on how to improve Quezon City:
Me: Kung magkaroon kayo ng posisyon sa gobyerno, anong gagawin niyo para maayos ang lungsod niyo?
Student1 (17 y/o): Babarilin ko yung mga drug addicts para mawala na sila. [sabay nag-muestra na parang may hawak na baril tapos biglang sabi ng “bang! bang! bang!”]
Me: Eh paano kung malaking bahagdan o lahat ng tao sa Quezon City naging addict, papatayin mo silang lahat?
Student 1: Opo! hahaha!
Me: Paano kung tignan mo rin yung ugat mismo ng problema? Bakit ba sila nagiging addict? Anong nagtulak sa kanila para gawin yun? Merong ugnay din ‘yan sa lipunan eh.
Student2 (12 y/o): Ma’am, yung iba kasi walang trabaho kaya gumagamit o nagbebenta na lang sila nun. Yung iba, kulang sa edukasyon [tungkol sa droga].
Discussion went on to rehabilitation facilites and how getting addicts detoxed could be another solution. I then briefly relayed to them the story of a documentary I saw several years ago on National Geographic Channel. It was about this facility called Insite located in Downtown Eastside, in Vancouver, Canada.
Insite is a place for (mostly marginalized) drug addicts where they can satisfy their addiction safely without getting entangled with the law. The facility is not like some dark alley or a run-down building where addicts can shoot up. Rather, the site looks like a decent office space with a nice reception area and well-lit cubicles for its patients. Instead of having a desktop computer, a document tray, or a telephone, however, each cubicle has a huge mirror, which lets the addict see their reflections. Except for the illicit drugs, everything that an addict needs is provided by Insite: needles, tourniquets, tubing, etc. It even has a medical staff to guide the addicts find their veins or prevent them from overdosing. The facility also offers counseling and detox treatments, which its administrators hope would lead their clients to the road of recovery. This public health facility has helped a lot of drug users get off the streets, lower cases of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and in many cases, get the dependents get unhooked on illicit drugs themselves.
The students were shocked (as I was too when I first watched it) to hear about the existence of such a facility. They were not completely convinced about its effectiveness, but they did consider some of its advantages, and I guess that was a good start: people considering new (and non-violent), albeit controversial solutions to a social problem that affects a lot of countries all over the world.
Here in the Philippines, the biggest agenda of the current administration under Rodrigo Duterte is eliminating the drug menace, which has seen both the surrender of thousands of drug dependents and pushers, and the death of thousands as well, including some who are not in any way connected to the drug world. With the administration hell bent on winning its drug war, I wonder if lawmakers and the Filipino population too, would ever be open enough to give Canada’s radical solution an iota of consideration – not now though because this massive campaign against drugs garners so much public support – but perhaps in the future. Would it be viable to try out such a solution? Or would it only legitimize and even encourage drug use? What do you think?