Define the drug problem | Inquirer Opinion

Define the drug problem

Albert Einstein, the most influential physicist of the 20th century, reportedly said that if he were given one hour to save the world he would devote 55 minutes to defining the problem and five minutes to finding the solution. I think that is a rather lopsided proportion, but it does illustrate the point that we should not jump into solving a problem without spending time to understand it.

Before rushing to solve a problem, whether it be the traffic mess, poverty, or drug addiction and crime, it is best to view it from different perspectives so as to come up with various insights. It makes sense to devote time to analyzing a problem. What often happens is that as soon as we have a problem to work on, we’re so eager to formulate a solution that we do not spend time refining it. We fail to realize what Einstein might have been alluding to—that the quality of the solution we come up with is the result of the quality of our examination of the problem.

In defining the drug problem, we find that it is composed of several related problems, each more specific than the original. In the matter of drug supply, there are the Chinese drug manufacturers, the drug lords who smuggle in the substances through cartels and mules, and the drug dealers and pushers who furtively sell the stuff to the users. They are the major players in the supply chain whose common interest is to amass millions of pesos in profit under the protection of politicians and police officers. These are the culprits that President Duterte has declared war against in order to cut the drug supply.


In his zeal to wipe out drug-related crimes in three to six months and create the illusion of a drug-free Philippines, Mr. Duterte has encouraged a tough vigilantism that may do nothing to reduce drug supply or demand, or take control of the criminal organizations that direct the drug trade. The thousands of drug abusers and pushers who allegedly surrendered to the authorities for fear of being killed have given the public some measure of satisfaction and relief. It looks pleasing at first, but will it last? Indeed, the war on drugs has done too much damage to so many people already.


The history of drug wars around the world is a history of consistent failure. It is wishful thinking to hope that the Duterte administration’s drug war will be an exception. In Mexico’s experience, then President Felipe Calderon led thousands of soldiers in fighting the drug cartels in 2006, but in the end that country was far from winning the war. It is estimated that over 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug war since 2006.

The United States itself has spent over $1 trillion to wage a massive drug war that was launched by President Richard Nixon in 1971. Today, with 27 million drug abusers, America remains the world’s top consumer of illegal drugs.

No less than 1,000 world leaders, including law enforcement officials, members of the clergy, health and medical professionals, celebrities, athletes and business executives, together with DJ Khaled, Michael Douglas, Tom Brady and Warren Buffett, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, have declared in a recent letter to the United Nations that the global war on drugs has proven “disastrous” and that “humankind cannot afford a 21st-century drug policy as ineffective and counterproductive as the last century’s.” They said the global drug wars “focused on criminalization and punishment, and created a vast illicit market that has enriched criminal organizations, corrupted governments, triggered explosive violence, distorted economic markets and undermined basic moral values.”

Anthony Papa, Filipino artist, writer, and noted advocate against the war on drugs, said: “President Duterte is out of his mind. In my experience as a convicted drug dealer who was sentenced to two, 15-year-to-life sentences … I clearly see that killing drug dealers is not the answer to solving the problems associated with crime and the war on drugs. The methods used by President Duterte in fighting crime and curbing problems associated with the drug war are totally insane. To take human lives in the name of justice is despicable. It is hoped that they do not catch on and spread to other countries and Duterte comes to his senses before more tragedy occurs.”

On the demand side of  the drug trade, the Dangerous Drugs Board said there were 6.9 million Filipino drug abusers in 2015. They are not criminals per se. Since the dawn of history, alcohol, opium, tobacco and marijuana have been used by individuals to escape reality in order to cope with their lives. Instead of punitive punishment, the government should help them flee their misery and provide them with rehabilitation and healthcare. Drug addiction should be considered a public health issue that calls for maximum understanding and responsibility.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy has recommended that nations invest in drug prevention and treatment, and ensure equitable access to essential medicines that relieve unnecessary pain and suffering; that there be an end to criminalization and incarceration for drug use; that capital punishment for drug-related offenses be abolished; and that law enforcement be redirected from nonviolent participants in the drug trade.


And finally, let’s look at the millions of children who have yet to taste any illegal substance but who have the potential to become the next generation of drug abusers. Prevention through role-model parenting is the ideal way to “immunize” children against drug use. When kids don’t feel comfortable talking with their parents, they’ll seek answers from their friends or barkada. These are the bad influencers who could lead our kids to  experiment with drugs.

Perhaps  we should go back to the Aquino administration’s holistic approach to the drug problem, which viewed it as an issue of security or public health that encompasses “social, economic, psychological, and economic interests.” P-Noy’s nonviolent drug war was waged against drug traffickers and couriers, undercover laboratories and illegal drug plantations. P-Noy launched a public and youth awareness campaign like the “Barkada Kontra Droga” program, and managed the reduction of drug demand and supply through the Integrated Drug Abuse Data and Information Network, an online data pooling and collection system.

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Charlie A. Agatep is chair-CEO of Grupo Agatep, an integrated marketing communications agency; former president of the Public Relations Society of the Philippines; and former professor of PR, journalism and communication arts at the University of Santo Tomas.

TAGS: crime, drugs, Killings, Mexico, Rodrigo Duterte, US

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