IN a twist of irony, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, the man behind the ongoing crackdown on the country’s drug criminals, is being urged to prove his fitness for office after he admitted last week to abusing an addictive painkiller.
According to the South China Morning Post (via the AFP), Duterte’s admission has triggered widespread speculation about his health, and revived old rumours that circulated during his election campaign this year claiming he was suffering from cancer.
“To end this speculation, it would be better if his physician explains how the president manages the pain that he suffers,” Duterte ally congressman Carlos Zarate was quoted as saying.
A medical report, Zarate added, would provide clarity towards the president’s health condition.
Duterte, infamous for his hardline stance on drug abuse, admitted last Monday to using fentanyl, a highly potent painkiller used to relieve cancer patients and those suffering from other chronic conditions.
He said he used the painkiller due to a spinal injury caused by motorcycle accidents, adding his doctor had stopped him from using it after he was found to have used more than the prescribed dosage.
Fentanyl, according to the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), is a “powerful synthetic opioid analgesic that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent”. The painkiller is also reportedly the same type of drug that killed pop legend Prince due to an accidental overdose.
Despite Duterte’s explanation and claim that he has since stopped using the drug, the admission prompted lawmakers to urge him to undergo a full medical check-up and disclose the results.
Senator Leila de Lima, one of Duterte’s staunchest critics echoed Zarate’s call for the president to disclose his health condition and the medications he uses.
“It is not just the illness itself that we should be worried about, but also the impact or side effects that the medications he is taking may have, especially on his lucidity and ability to make decisions with a clear mind,” she was quoted as saying in AFP.
De Lima’s call was supported by another critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, who said Duterte “qualified as a drug addict” as he had admitted to taking more than the prescribed dosage of Fentanyl.
Duterte, however, decried the claim. He pointed out that he constantly suffers from migraines and that while he did use the drug, it was because there was a prescription for it.
“Yes. But I’m not an addict. Only when there is [a drug] prescribed. Addiction is when there’s regularity, my friend,” he told a reporter during an ambush interview during his maiden official visit to Singapore last week.
According to ABS-CBN News, Duterte, who was visibly irked by questions on his alleged addiction, then schooled a journalist on the what drug addition means.
“When you take it and there’s a monkey on your back, that’s addiction. You know what? I’ll give you an idea, nicotine is an addictive element. It’s more than…worse than the medications you take for your headache.”
He maintained that he used the drug for his medical condition, saying: “You must know that I have a headache, because I had a bad spill and my– And may I show it to you? This is the cause. So, I have intermittent… but I take the [drug], for my migraine.”
Duterte also said that drug addiction was not as bad as smoking cigarettes even though little was done to address the latter.
“Smoking? That’s far worse. You ask any… it’s far worse than… Nicotine is an addictive form and it has—but since it was there a century, two centuries ago, nobody can stop it”.
Duterte has courted international controversy as some 5,000 drug suspects have been killed since he took office in late June. A large number of the suspects were killed at the hands of local security forces, while many others by vigilante groups since fueled by the president’s anti-drugs message.
The firebrand leader also admitted last week that he personally killed suspected criminals during his time as mayor of Davao City.
The president, who now faces international heat for his administration’s violent war on drugs, said he conducted the killings himself to set an example for the police under his watch.