OZAMIZ CITY—There is increased interest in the real score about the country’s drug problem. Daily, what we see, hear and read in the news is the pileup in the body count of suspected drug personalities who allegedly resisted arrest by law enforcers, along with an inventory of the illegal substances recovered and their purported street value.
We are yet to be provided with the total picture of this drug menace we are facing, the fight against which has led to, per Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa and as of Sept. 15, the killing of 1,105 suspects in police operations and 2,035 deaths under police investigation (some of which may not necessarily be drug-related). That picture will help us measure how the law enforcement successes have made a dent in the problem so far.
What we know is that “shabu” is the narcotic of choice for abuse, accounting for some 90 percent of drug use, according to the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB).
We also know that as of last year, about 20 percent of the Philippines’ over 42,000 barangays were assessed to be drug-affected, meaning there is presence of either drug user, pusher, producer, or all of them. This is a 12-percent jump from 8 percent in 2002, per Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency data cited by a 2004 study done for the International Labor Organization. In 1999, it was 14 percent, according to the National Drug Law Enforcement and Prevention Coordinating Center.
But the current count of users—which gives significant context to the campaign against drugs—is not well-established. The DDB said that in 2004, there were 6.7 million users, based on its National Household Survey. This dropped to 1.7 million by 2008, and further down to 1.3 million by 2012. During the Senate hearing last month, Dela Rosa said the figure for 2015 was 1.8 million, which has since climbed to 3.7 million this year.
The DDB said the steep decline in the number of users between 2004 and 2008 was due to “intensified operations … in arresting drug traffickers, and dismantling clandestine laboratories and chemical warehouses and continued drug demand reduction programs….”
But data presented in a paper by University of the Philippines graduate students (which was published in Rappler) showed a decline in the number of drug raids and arrests between 2004 and 2008. And how do we explain the expanding number of drug-affected barangays? I bet that is not a case of the supposedly thinning number of users spreading out to more barangays.
All these tell us to get our numbers right so we can have a good grasp of the problem we are solving.
I spoke recently with certain residents of Ozamiz City, some of whom know the nitty-gritty of the shabu trade. The conversations were a good refresher for the narco numbers I knew from way back when I was starting out as a journalist. I recall them here in the hope of presenting a way to estimate the extent of drug abuse in the country.
In 2001, the PNP estimated weekly shabu sales in Ozamiz at P2 million. A kilo of shabu then could fetch P1.2 million on retail. Dividing P2 million by P1.2 million pegs the weekly demand at 1.6 kilos.
Shabu sold on retail mainly comes in 50- and 100-milligram sachets (the latter called “punto uno” in reference to its weight), which is equivalent to 0.1 gram. Today, the usual price is P100 for 50 mg (referred to as “piso”), and P200 for 100 mg.
According to the people I spoke with, shabu users can be categorized into 1) the average or regular user, and 2) the “tang-an” or hard-core user. They estimate the weekly consumption of an average user at 200 mg, and the hard-core user, 400 mg.
Assuming that the number of users is evenly split between the two categories, then 800 grams (or 800,000 mg) are consumed by 4,000 average users, and another 800 grams by 2,000 hard-core users. That means 6,000 users in a given week who underpinned the local shabu industry valued at P104 million annually, equivalent to about 40 percent of the local government’s yearly budget then.
The consumption level in Ozamiz is lower than the figures in a 2003 DDB study of 2,179 respondents in four government-run rehab facilities in Metro Manila. In that study, the average monthly consumption was four grams per user, or at least 100 mg per day.
Between 2001 and 2003, news reports cited estimates by authorities that the Philippine shabu industry is valued at P250 billion annually. In 2003, antinarcotics officials estimated shabu retail at between P2,000 and P5,000 per gram, or P2-5 million per kilo.
The P250-billion annual value means daily sales of P685 million. That means a daily demand of 342.5 kilos at P2 million per kilo, and 137 kilos at P5 million per kilo. Using the consumption level established in the 2003 DDB study, about 1.37 million to 3.43 million were using shabu in a given day in 2003.
On a weekly basis, sales amount to P4.81 billion. That means a weekly demand of 2,405 kilos at P2 million per kilo, and 962 kilos at P5 million per kilo. Using the Ozamiz model, average users number from 2.4 million to six million, and hard-core users from 1.2 million to three million. In all, the number of shabu users was from 3.6 million to nine million in a given week in 2003.
Let the numbers tell how we are faring against the drug menace.
Ryan D. Rosauro, based in Ozamiz City, has been a correspondent for the Inquirer since 2001.
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