Thursday, March 9, 2017

Drug surrenderers in Bicol undergo assessment for 'categorization'
By Mar Arguelles

LEGAZPI CITY, March 8 (PNA) —- Health authorities in Bicol have begun validating and sorting out the records submitted to them on the cases of the drug surrenderers in various villages and municipalities in the six provinces of the region.

During the first six months of the campaign that started in July 2016 immediately after President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, the Philippine National Police (PNP) recorded an upsurge in the number of drug surrenderers resulting from its “Oplan Tokhang (a Visayan term that means to knock on doors),” whereby the law enforcers went around known lairs of suspected drug users and pushers in various villages in the country to convince them to yield.

Dr. Evy Sarmiento, coordinator of DOH-Bicol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program, in an interview, said as of Dec. 31, 2016, the cases of 4,051 drug surrenderers had been validated and assessed by the DOH technical staff as to the extent of their drug dependency.

“The figure represented only four percent of those who surrendered,” she said.

Sarmiento said of the 4,051 cases submitted for assessment, 1,446 patients belong to the low risk category while 1,367 cases are deemed mild, 989 are moderate and 249 are severe cases who need to undergo treatment.

She said the initial report came from towns in the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon and Camarines Sur.

“We expect more to come as these are initial data with other provinces still in the process of screening and validating (their cases),” said Sarmiento. (The “other provinces” are Masbate, Catanduanes and Camarines Norte)

Chief Supt. Melvin Ramon Buenafe, PRO5 director, said for the period July 2016 to January 30 this year, their records showed 86,607 “drug personalities,” have voluntarily surrendered to various police units in the six Bicol provinces.

He said 93 percent or 80,653 were deemed users while only 7 percent or 5,954 were pushers.

Sr. Insp. Ma. Luisa Calubaquib, PRO5 spokesperson, said the surrenderers were allowed to return to their homes after undergoing screening and documentation in the various provincial and municipal police offices in the region.

“After police documentation the names of these illegal drug users (and pushers) were compiled and turned over to their respective local government units (LGUs) for further assessment and categorization by a core team,” she said.

Calubaquib said after turnover to the LGUs the latter were expected to follow up on the status of the drug surrenderees.

On July 4, 2016, the President issued Executive Order (EO) No. 4 that created an inter-agency task force (TF) that was tasked to establish and provide support for the drug dependents through the creation of drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation centers.

Aside from the PNP and PDEA, the task force was composed of technical personnel from the Departments of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Health (DOH), Justice (DOJ), Social Welfare (DSWD); Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA); and local Anti-Illegal Drug Abuse Councils such as the Barangay Drug Abuse Council.

The task force was mandated to conduct validation and categorization of the cases of drug dependents, whether they are “mild, moderate or severe.”

Sarmiento said the process of assessing and categorizing the degree of drug dependency among the surrenderees “took some time” because of the many steps involved in evaluating their cases.

“The process starts from Tokhang to the LGU-core team for assessment, screening, categorization and finally treatment,” she said.

Sarmiento said there are LGUs who don’t have qualified personnel to properly handle drug cases as they are still in the process of training personnel at the town and provincial levels.

“The LGU people were telling us that they need to train people on how to handle the drug dependents,” she added.

Sarmiento lamented that of the 249 deemed as severe cases, only 89 were had been referred by the core team to undergo treatment in a rehabilitation center.

Quoting a study of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Criminality, she said only 1 to 2 percent of those categorized as drug dependents undergo treatment in a drug rehabilitation center.

As a way of explaining the categorization process, Sarmiento said patients in the low risk category are those drug users who undergo intervention by attending a month-long seminar on illegal drug use and prevention.

She said drug users in the high-risk category are deemed to be “mild cases” and need to undergo community based intervention in LGU-sponsored seminars for a period of three months.

She said the moderate cases can be accommodated as outpatients in designated treatment and rehabilitation centers for four to six months.

“Those categorized as severe cases are referred for treatment to rehabilitation centers for a six-month treatment period,” said Sarmiento.

She added that patients deemed “severe” can be accommodated in any drug rehabilitation center but required to submit a court order, physical examination from a DOH-accredited physician and clearance from a psychiatrist.

Sarmiento said DOH-Bicol has released a P1.5-million fund to the Bicol Regional Teaching Hospital in Albay, Bicol Medical Center and Bicol Sanitarium in Camarines Sur to finance the expenses for laboratory examinations of indigent drug dependents.

In Bicol, there are only two drug rehabilitation centers--one in Malinao, Albay and another in San Fernando, Camarines Sur.

“Both institutions have a 150-bed capacity,” she said.

A patient has to spend P3,000 monthly or P18,000 for a six-month period for the drug rehabilitation treatment.

“For the many poor families of drug dependents, who could not afford the treatment fee and thus refuse or shy away from the treatment program, we have asked the LGU to set aside funds to assist the indigent patients,” said Sarmiento.

Buenafe said from July 1, 2016 to January 18 this year, 466 of the 580 barangays have been “cleared” of the illegal drug problem.

PDEA records showed that there were 580 barangays or 16.7 percent of the total 3,471 barangays in the region which it deemed to be drug-affected when the campaign started.

“The remaining 20 percent or 114 barangays of the total drug-affected barangays are still under the PNP’S clearing operation,” said Buenafe.

During the same RPOC meeting, Legazpi City Mayor Noel Rosal, the newly installed RPOC chairperson, disclosed that there were local officials and police officers in Bicol who were included in the narco-list that President Duterte presented during a dialogue with the mayors in Malacaňang early in January.

In Albay, Governor Al Francis Bichara, in an interview, said the province is ready to put up a drug rehabilitation center in Barangay Tula Tula in Ligao City.

He said at least 10 big cargo aluminium containers, measuring 40 feet each, that were donated by friends and supporters, are ready to be set up at the one-hectare rehabilitation site.

Bichara said they are awaiting the categorization of the drug dependents because “as a standard practice the rehab centers could only accommodate patients deemed with a ‘severe’ drug problem.”

He said the categories of drug dependents should be determined first as these would be the basis of how many drug rehab centers should be put up.

“Without the numbers and the categorization of drug patients we would not be able to provide the much needed intervention,” said Bichara. (PNA) LAP/GVR/MSA/CBD