Philippines: Is killing addicts any kind of solution to the drug problem?
Share this on

Philippines: Is killing addicts any kind of solution to the drug problem?

SINCE the swearing in of President Rodrigo Duterte last Thursday, some 30 supposed drug dealers have been killed in the Philippines. Moreover, police have killed over 100 suspected criminals — including car thieves — since Duterte won the election on May 9.

Duterte, who is known as “The Punisher” for his alleged involvement with death squads and support for extra-judicial killings while mayor of Davao City, has not only called for police and vigilantes to execute drug pushers, but also for the wholesale murder of drug addicts.

If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself

—President Rodrigo Duterte

A loss of faith in democracy

While many in the Philippines and beyond support President Duterte’s strong-arm statements against those who break the law, such proclamations fly in the face of basic principles of a functioning democratic state, such as rule of law, due process and basic human rights.

However, Duterte’s vows to swiftly crush corruption and right societal ills without pesky bureaucratic hindrances are understandably appealing in a country where democracy has so plainly failed to deliver.

If I wear my realist (read: cynic) cap, I can conclude that democracy is something that relatively few people in the world understand and even less actually want, especially in a crisis situation. Sure, democracy sounds nice, but will it protect me and my property from the evil and the desperate?

No? Well then lets just use it to vote in a strong man who will kill the evil and the desperate instead. Much simpler than trying to fix a system that no one has ever had the slightest bit of luck sorting out.

Is victim-killing really the way to go?

If addiction is a disease then murdering drug addicts is the worst kind of eugenics. No one wants to be an addict and why, oh why dole out the ultimate punishment to the principal victims of the drug trade: the addicts and their families?

Research shows — and with very strong evidence — that addiction is a response or “adaptation” to living in an unnaturally stressful, hopeless, boring and/or alienating environment. Research in rats shows why the rodents become addicted and how they stop their addiction when they are placed in a stimulating environment.

Johann Hari, author of the book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, explains rat behavior when confronted with scientist drug pushers in both “happy” and “unhappy” cages:

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

A real life example is the 20 percent of American soldiers who were addicted to heroin during the Vietnam War. After they had returned to their comparatively stress-free and healthy lives in the US some 95 percent of them simply did not continue with their drug use. Another success story is Portugal’s decriminalization of drug use, which has contributed to the second lowest rate of drug-induced deaths in Europe. Instead, the use of illegal drugs is treated as a health issue, while drug use in the country has not increased since decriminalization 15 years ago.

For those addicted soldiers in Vietnam, drug use was a coping mechanism, as it must be for most Filipino addicts who live in dangerous, poor and desperate conditions. And make no mistake — it is the poor and desperate who are being killed by Duterte’s cops and vigilantes, not the privileged wealthy playboys who enjoy unlimited party drugs in comparatively safe environments. Duterte’s war on drug addicts is a war on the poor and only the poor, unless you are a Filipino journalist and speak out against him. Then you’d better watch your back.

Topics covered: