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Another approach to drugs

/ 01:14 AM September 28, 2016

“Sam” was struggling with issues of “drugs, alcohol and bulimia” six years ago when she convinced her grandparents to enroll her in SELF, or Self Enhancement for Life Foundation Inc., a facility in Batangas that uses the therapeutic community approach “for the treatment of substance abuse and other behavior disorders.”

“It was hard in the beginning,” she told attendees of the “Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel” media forum yesterday. She stayed at SELF for four years until her “graduation” two years ago. But she recalls that the “hardest time” she went through during her stay at the facility came near the end of her stint, when she had achieved the “re-entry” stage.

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“Re-entry,” Sam explained, is the stage when residents, deemed sufficiently on the way to recovery, are allowed to go home to their families for two days each week. “One of the times when I was home, I refused to go back to SELF,” she remembers. The old issues she faced before her rehab were beginning to resurface, and her grandparents decided to stage an “intervention” and asked SELF staffers to fetch her and bring her back to the facility. Once there, she was made to start again from scratch, going through the many phases of treatment and counseling before regaining the trust of the staff and authorities at SELF.

“Insecurity” was her “core issue,” Sam admits, confessing to debilitating feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, fueled, she believes, by “images of unrealistic perfection in the media” that girls and young women like her struggle to achieve or emulate.

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Today, Sam, 27, feels so attached to SELF that she works as an administrative assistant in its Alabang office and admits to being “so passionate when talking about SELF.”

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That episode, says Martin Infante, president of SELF, was Sam’s turning point. Some people may call it a “relapse,” says Infante, “but we have a saying that relapse is part of recovery.” Facing up to the root causes of one’s dependency which may manifest in many forms—drug dependency, misbehavior, self-harm—“is what takes time,” says Infante. Often, as with Sam who had thought herself sufficiently “recovered,” it takes a “crisis point” to fully awaken the individual to his or her continuing journey. As for Sam, she admits that today she is still “learning to love myself more.”

Perhaps what makes SELF different from other rehab facilities, especially those run by government, is that it is rooted in one man’s own experience with drug dependency. Growing up in the free-wheeling 1960s, Infante says he dived head-on into the drug culture, trying out various forms of narcotics until relatives staged their own intervention and brought him to the infamous “basement” of a medical center.

As Infante tells it, his own “crisis point” manifested itself when, praying the Rosary with other patients at the basement, he found himself breaking down. Once detoxified and inspired to help other dependents, Infante established SELF in 1992, discovering the therapeutic community approach deemed “one of the most effective behavior modification programs in the world.”

SELF itself would undergo several trials—one literally by fire when its second home was razed. But today, its main treatment facility is in a picturesque hillside compound overlooking Taal Lake in Talisay, Batangas. More than a thousand men and women—of all ages and occupations—have since joined SELF, with 85 percent of residents “successfully reintegrating themselves into society.”

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These days, the drug “menace” is very much in the news, with President Duterte proclaiming that there are almost 2 million drug dependents in our midst. Almost all of them, authorities say, pose such a grave danger to society that they must be tracked down and rehabilitated, if not, they face the ultimate punishment—death.

Infante says he is still of two minds about the raging war on drugs. “On one hand,” he says, “I am happy that the government seems determined to solve this growing problem.” But, given his decades-long experience working with and helping drug dependents and other individuals facing behavioral problems, he knows that killing addicts is not the “final solution” to the problem.

To help the government come up with more humane approaches to stemming the growing number of drug dependents, SELF has begun training staffers of the Department of Health who are fielded to various government-run facilities, as well as those employed in private facilities.

But it will be difficult to institute “barangay-based” programs, he acknowledges. “Our approach requires the cooperation of everyone—the residents or clients, the staff members, the family members of residents, and the rest of the community. It would be very difficult to apply that approach to an entire community.”

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And yet that is the urgent task that confronts Philippine society today. Private facilities like SELF may boast of an enviable success rate among its residents, but they are also expensive—and for the families of the thousands of alleged drug users and pushers who have lost their family members in police shootouts and extrajudicial killings, as well as the hundreds of thousands who have surrendered in droves, certainly way beyond their capacity to pay.

If the government really is striving for a “comprehensive” approach to clearing up the drug menace, then it should deploy as many man-hours and a sufficient budget to treatment and rehabilitation, as it spends now on bullets, guns and packing tapes.

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TAGS: drug rehabilitation, drug war, drugs, Martin Infante, Self Enhancement for Life Foundation Inc., SELF Inc.
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