Du30 and the zombies | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

Du30 and the zombies

/ 12:26 AM September 30, 2016

In his post-Asean Summit speech before a Filipino audience in Indonesia, President Duterte called drug dependents “zombies” whose brains have literally shrunk from the use of prohibited substances.

While the loss of “gray matter” is normally associated with the aging process, medical studies show that the rate seems to be twice as fast with drug addicts. Corollary to this, the President may also have meant that drug abuse shrinks the ability to act or function in a normal way. Why so? Because drug abuse alters brain processes in very fundamental ways.

Drug addiction, like any other addiction, is linked to the brain’s reward system. We keep seeking it and doing it because it gives us pleasure. But there comes a time when drug abuse, like any other abuse, results in higher thresholds of tolerance and we need more of the drug more often. Thus, dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure, is overwhelmed. The US National Institute on Drug Abuse says: “As a result, dopamine’s impact on the reward circuit of the brain of someone who abuses drugs can become abnormally low, and that person’s ability to experience any pleasure is reduced. This is why a person who abuses drugs eventually feels flat, lifeless, and depressed, and is unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable.”

Truly, aren’t zombies the walking dead? We might as well “kill ’em all,” right?

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But then, drug addicts are not the only persons with impaired brain functions. What about our senior citizens who have diminished cognitive abilities because of Alzheimer’s Disease, or our children who have cerebral palsy and autism? Maybe we should declare open season on them as well?

The ongoing war on drugs is also premised on the prevention of crimes that some drug dependents have committed and could potentially commit, as if the average, nonaddicted citizen were incapable of rape, robbery and murder. The resultant broken families are also regularly cited by the President as a reason to extirpate drug abuse, as if the decades-long deployment of overseas Filipino workers has not already resulted in millions of broken families and millions of Filipino children growing up without their biological parents.

There is much in and about Mr. Duterte to recommend him as worthy of his office and his national leadership role. For one, money has apparently no attraction for him and therefore he is incorruptible; second, he has no patience for a bureaucracy that impedes instead of speeds up public service; third, he is of singular mind in pursuit of the results he wants; and fourth, he seems to have the support of all socioeconomic classes nationwide. But it is precisely because he is who he is that he is taking shortcuts and brooks no opposition of any kind from anyone.

In the end, it boils down to how we value life and what we think is human. The President has categorically stated that drug dependents are not human. But life is precious precisely because it is fragile. We are in this world in this moment but we could be gone in the next. Death is the only certainty, aside from taxes, and no amount of recompense or regret can resurrect a life taken.

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Is the zombie-like state of drug dependents permanent? It need not be. Among the brain’s wonderful qualities is that its function and ability are never fixed. It is commonly recognized now that neuroplasticity enables people to overcome learning disabilities and function exceedingly well even in old age. Neuroplasticity has only of late found favor in the scientific community, which in the previous century believed that brain development was fastest in early childhood and pretty much stopped after that. Actually, neuroplasticity was presaged centuries ago by Shakespeare, who very insightfully wrote: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!”

The way of rehabilitation and recovery is the path now being taken in the United States, which previously emphasized the punitive and has spent billions of dollars on its endless domestic and international drug wars, thinking it could lick the problem by imprisoning people and destroying drug producers and suppliers. But such is the power of the brain that if it is not rehabilitated, there will always be a demand. And if there is a demand, there will always be a supplier, no matter what the risks are.

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It’s a truly sad time when the President of the Philippines talks about killing and not about protecting human life, and when he considers 3.5 million Filipino drug users as zombies, deserving of head shots to their “shrunken” brains.

Coincidentally, his appellation “Du30” can be associated with the death of drug dependents. “Du” being taken to signify “drug user,” and “30” being the journalistic symbol to signify the end of an article or the end of a life—to “write 30” means to pass on—“Du30” could chillingly stand for that singularly nefarious purpose. Whether it was intentional on the part of the person who crafted the abbreviation, I don’t know. Even the fact that it’s an abbreviation adds a level of dread among those who don’t want their lives shortened. But certainly the subliminal associations are present and very real to the families and the thousands of victims, including law enforcers, who have died so far in the war on drugs.

Knowing that the President is inspired by anticrime film characters played by Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson, I am reminded of a line from a movie about the habit of homicide. The scene was of a veteran character (played by Gene Hackman, if I remember right) talking to a greenhorn about killing: “It’s like sex. After the first time, it becomes easy.” And if you get to like it, you do it over and over again. It becomes a habit. And habit reshapes our brains.

And so it’s killer brain versus zombie brain. Maybe “Du30 The Movie” will soon see life in full high definition. Whatever that means.

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Roderick Toledo is a freelance communication projects manager.

TAGS: drug addicts, President Duterte, war on drugs, Zombies

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