First person: Moving from fear to hope after the war on drugs in the Philippines

Thousands of people across the Southeast Asian country are believed to have died in the so-called war on drugs pushed by the last Philippine government.

But now a more compassionate and less punitive approach is being taken from the local level up.

Michael John Maestro shows local students illustrations about drug abuse prevention.

Michael John Maestro shows local schoolchildren illustrations about drug abuse prevention.

UN News’ Daniel Dickinson went to Antipolo – near the capital Manlia – to meet with Michael John Maestro, a registered nurse who works on drug abuse prevention and treatment at the Antipolo City Office on Drug Abuse and work His was supported by the United Nations Office. Drugs and crime (UNODC).

“A young man I will call Carlo who abused meth amphetamine was referred to our office. He had a psychotic episode last December and January this year and frequently threatened his mother.

He also tried to strangle a child. His family realized they needed to keep him and others in the community safe, so they locked him in his room. He only has his dog Butchokoy as a companion.

Carlo is at home with his dog Butchokoy.

Carlo is at home with his dog Butchokoy.

I realized that his drug abuse was due to mental health issues because he was showing symptoms of schizophrenia, which can be chemically caused by meth amphetamine.

He was prescribed antipsychotics six weeks ago and the change since I last saw him has been amazing. He no longer experiences psychotic episodes, is in a more positive mood, and can move around the neighborhood, even playing basketball with other young people.

Crime and punishment

In the war on drugs, he could be targeted and sent to prison, perhaps even killed. That period was characterized by fear and punishment and drug users were considered evil and a threat to society.

It became clear to me that Carlo needed compassion and understanding, not punishment. He’s a normal person, he just has different medical needs. Drug addiction is a chronic disorder. This is both a medical and mental health condition that requires treatment, and that is now the new approach being taken at Antipolo and health agencies nationwide.

This policy change and our compassion for drug users has resulted in more people seeking treatment for their condition at the Antipolo City Drug Abuse Office. Last year, 30 people voluntarily sought treatment at our office, but in the first five months of 2024, we saw 36 patients.

Reduce stigma

By showing respect and empathy, we can continue to help reduce the stigma that still exists around people who use drugs. This change will take time, but from my experience talking about drugs in schools and community centers, I think people are ready to listen.

Young men play basketball in Antipolo city.

Young men play basketball in Antipolo city.

With the help of UNODC, I am using a toolkit of questions to determine patient needs and inform treatment plans. The toolkit tracks all types of economic, health and social data, and from the information we collect, we can refer patients to the appropriate city agency for treatment and support. help them.

This toolkit approach is unique and we are conducting an impact study with the hope that if the results are positive, we can expand this study to other municipalities in the Philippines.

I am very passionate about my work. I look at people and see they need help, my role is to care. The love and passion I feel for the people who come into my office and the positive change in their lives that I can contribute through my compassionate approach brings give me motivation to do this work.”


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