A statement on promoting a scientific and humane approach to addiction and substance use
We in the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) oppose the current approach of criminalizing drug use, with its attendant programs that vilify drug users, violate human rights, and disregard legal and due process. Criminalizing drug users has been shown in other countries to be ineffective in solving the drug addiction problem.
We present the following evidence and inferences from psychological, clinical, and social science research:
Addiction or substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental disorder (DSM-5, 2013). It is defined by the Philippine Mental Health Law as a “primary chronic relapsing disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry” (Sec. 4.a., RA 11036).
While SUD is a serious and complex problem that is caused and maintained by multiple factors (Klostermann and Kelley, 2016), people can recover from and manage their addiction with appropriate treatment and support (UNODC, 2003; NIDA, 2014). Addiction can be successfully dealt with using both residential and non-residential or community approaches (DOH “Manual of Operations for Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers”, 2003).
High relapse rates may be due to the lack of a systemic approach that addresses poverty and extreme economic deprivation (e.g., Robins & Ratcliff,1979), as well as the proliferation of centers that do not use evidence-based approaches and that do not address relapse prevention, family support, and aftercare.
The approach of criminalizing drug use violates the human rights of drug users and runs counter to the prevailing scientific view of addiction that is articulated in the new Mental Health Law. The United Nations and international human rights organizations have condemned this approach (hrw.org, 2018; Gavilan, 2017).
The criminalization approach distorts ordinary citizens’ and law enforcers’ perceptions of addiction. By exposing people to frequent occurrences of “tokhang” and vigilante-style killings, it desensitizes them to violations of human rights and reinforces the view that the lives of innocent people are mere collateral damage.
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