In the new year, out with the skeletons

New year new role for Congress. This most venerable of public bodies has happily taken to it’s new role as high court of sorts digging into and wanting to dig into cases from the sensational to the mundane never mind if these are the jurisdiction of proper courts whether it’s the Supreme Court or lower courts across the regions. What do the honorables hope to prove? That they’re A.T.T.Ys for nothing?

Fine. Let’s get back to the one topic – EJKs, War on Drugs, and Oplan Tokhang whatever – Congress can’t seem to extricate itself out of despite mounting legislation it’s supposed to attend to with urgency.

President Duterte’s war on drugs is not a stand-alone declaration but is linked to a global effort to address the world’s continuing illicit drug problem which according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has “significant impact on peace, security and development” and “appears to be the nexus between organized crime and terrorism.” Nor is it a one-off operation. Indeed when President Duterte tells us that he will carry on the “war” until the end of his term he is merely stating a fact in international pacts that have taken effect decades before. And, ‘EJKs’ or extrajudicial killings may seem to have exploded right in our faces only during President Duterte’s time but this is not so. If we remember in the time of former President BSA III, national dailies were already reporting “mysterious” killings by “riders in tandem”. The difference between then and now is that President Duterte explicitly made war on drugs a national policy. In the previous administration, media and the public didn’t know shit why people were randomly shot at in the streets. The public now is being kept abreast at least.

This post is not to take sides on the EJKs controversy because it is a moot point. There simply are no EJKs in war. The “EJKs” that we’re hearing about are, technically and for want of a better term, casualties of such a war. Nonetheless everyone has been duly warned and whoever has ears and heard the message and is part of that enemy ring has had plenty of time to reflect and decide- life or death? But no one among them are coming forward, no? Buti pa ang mga Communista na nagdesisyong bumaba at maging miyembro uli ng lipunan. So be it. Their decision it goes without saying carries the implicit consequence of innocent lives getting caught in the crossfire. This is like when friendly forces have to make the difficult decision to invade a country knowing that while their objective is to end an oppressive regime innocent lives will be part of casualties. But at the end of the day invading friendly forces cannot be faulted. That choice had been made for them in the first place by the enemy. It’s why we don’t want war if possible. It’s beyond hard, for all involved. And this war at home should not have been declared if our communities are free of drug lords, peddlers, backers, protectors, users; or, despite their presence if they had turned themselves in. But was there ever a drug lord who’d do that? So be it.

The objective of this post rather is to reiterate key facts and nuances of the world’s illicit drug problem in order to better understand why the administration is insistent on solving it and why it’s imperative for Congress and Philippine civil society to craft a strategic and integrated response to the problem.

The latest World Drug Report published by UNODC is for 2016 but in here I’m using the one for 2015  based on 2011-2013 data. Overall, for the period,

there has been little change in the overall global situation regarding the production, use and health consequences of illicit drugs. It is estimated that a total of 246 million people, or 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used an illicit drug in 2013. That represents an increase of 3 million over the previous year but, because of the increase in the global population, illicit drug use has in fact remained stable. Notwithstanding national and regional variations in trends in drug use, the limited data available indicate that the use of opiates (heroin and opium) has remained stable at the global level. Mainly as a result of trends in the Americas and Europe, cocaine use has declined overall, while the use of cannabis and the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids have continued to rise. Trends in ATS use vary from region to region, and some subregions such as South-East Asia have reported an increase in methamphetamine use.

Flows of illicit drugs across the world

The production of cannabis resin continues to be confined to a few countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South-West Asia, whereas cannabis herb is produced inmost of the countries in the world. South America continues to account for practically all global cultivation of coca bush, and South-West Asia (Afghanistan) and South-East Asia (mainly the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar) continue to account for the vast majority of illicit opium poppy cultivation. Although the manufacture of ATS is difficult to assess, there are reports of ATS manufacture in all regions worldwide.

global flows of methampethamine

global flows of cocaine

global flows of opiates

There is also evidence that organized criminal groups, which in the past may have limited their trafficking activities to one drug type, are diversifying. For example, groups that previously focused on heroin trafficking appear to be increasingly engaging in trafficking in cannabis resin and methamphetamine. The “dark net”, the anonymous online marketplace used for the illegal sale of a wide range of products, including drugs, is a prime example of the constantly changing situation, and it has profound implications for both law enforcement and drug trafficking.

main transit countries in illicit drug trade

The growing importance of Africa as a transit area for Afghan heroin bound for Europe and other regions has been reflected in increasing seizures of heroin reported in recent years in some African countries, particularly in East Africa. Recent seizures also suggest that it may have become more common for large shipments of Afghan heroin to be smuggled across the Indian Ocean into East and Southern Africa. Moreover, Africa continues to be used as a trans-shipment area for smuggling cocaine across the Atlantic into Europe, and Eastern Europe is emerging as a transit area and as a destination.

West Africa appears to have become an established source of the methamphetamine smuggled into East and South-East Asia via Southern Africa or Europe, with new trafficking routes linking previously unconnected regional methamphetamine markets. The established market for methamphetamine in East and South-East Asia continues to grow, while there are also indications of increasing methamphetamine use in parts of North America and Europe. In 2013, Australia, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea also reported the seizure of crystalline methamphetamine perceived to have originated in Mexico.

As opiates originating in Myanmar may be unable to meet the demand in South-East Asia, the so-called “southern route” could be increasing in importance as a conduit for smuggling Afghan heroin southwards from Afghanistan through Pakistan or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Trafficking networks using the Balkan route to smuggle Afghan heroin into Europe may be experimenting with a new route, leading through the Caucasus, and there are indications of heroin being trafficked from Iraq rather than from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the past few years, a growing number of NPS (new psychoactive substances) have been sold on illicit drug markets. In the United States, the annual prevalence of cannabis use among twelfth-grade students remained stable between 2011 and 2013 and declined only slightly in 2014 while synthetic cannabinoid (“spice”) use almost halved in the period 2011 to 2014. The perceived harmfulness of synthetic cannabinoids among secondary school students (twelfth grade) increased between 2012, the first year of measurement, and 2014, which may have contributed to the decline in use.

Data from a recent qualitative study suggest that use of both herbal cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids may not be uncommon. Users may choose one or the other depending on the situation, for example preferring synthetic cannabinoids when trying to avoid a positive drug test result.

For some time, the market for “ecstasy” has been on the decline in several European countries and mephedrone and other NPS may have been serving as a substitute for “ecstasy”. Despite a possible decline in the overall demand for mephedrone in the United Kingdom, high levels of use have been observed among some segments of the population. Mephedrone use appears to be particularly common in London dance clubs. Similarly, another survey of visitors to nightclubs in Rome in 2013 found that NPS were being used in addition to drugs such as cocaine.

According to EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction), there has been a decline in the injecting of illicit drugs in Europe, but there have been recent reports of the injecting of NPS, particularly synthetic cathinones.325Use data for NPS at the substance level are still limited. Among the reasons for this are that there is a large number of different NPS available on the market, and some of them are sold under street names that could imply a variety of different substances. For instance, the term “spice”, often used in reference to the use of synthetic cannabinoids, does not relate to a specific substance and could instead refer to a large variety of substances.

Up to December 2014, a total of 541 NPS had been reported to the UNODC early warning advisory. In 2014, 450 substances were reported, an increase from the 430 substances reported in 2013. In 2014, synthetic cannabinoids continued to account for the majority of NPS reported (39 per cent), followed by phenethylamines (18 per cent) and synthetic cathinones (15 per cent).

Preferred mode of transport

The frequency of use of different modes of transportation used by drug traffickers has not changed a great deal over the past decade. Accounting for nearly half the reported individual seizures in the 2009-2014 period, trafficking by road and rail is the most common mode of transportation used by traffickers globally, along with trafficking by air. Trafficking by air has become more frequent, but quantities intercepted remain comparatively small.

mode of transportation of illicit drugs

The average size of drug shipments intercepted on road and rail increased substantially from 68 kg between 2006 and 2008 to 107 kg between 2009 and 2014. maritime trafficking remains the least common mode of transportation in terms of individual seizure cases, but maritime seizures tend to be comparatively very large. For example, parcel post was the most commonly detected method of drug importation at the Australian borders in 2013, yet just three maritime seizure cases accounted for 74 percent of the total weight of heroin intercepted that year in the country. This confirms that interdiction of maritime shipments has potentially the greatest impact on the total quantities of drugs smuggled, as well as on trafficking flows and the availability of illicit drugs at the global level.

Gender differences in usage

To what extent are women into drugs? They’re in it big time, but on the other hand their treatment-seeking behavior is a dismal low.

women's use of illicit drugs and treatment seeking behavior

Women encounter significant systemic, structural, social, cultural and personal barriers in accessing substance abuse treatment. At the structural level, the most significant obstacles include lack of child care and punitive attitudes to parenting and pregnant women with substance abuse problems. This makes women fear losing custody of their children or having to relinquish their children as a condition of treatment, and prevents them from seeking treatment in residential settings. Treatment programmes may also be located far from where women live and may have inflexible admission requirements and schedules that may not suit the needs of women. Moreover, women with children may still need to secure child care to participate in outpatient treatment programmes as they may not have enough money to pay for child-care costs, transportation or treatment itself. Although men may be referred for treatment by their family, an employer or the criminal justice system, treatment history among women is more associated with and triggered by other problems, such as a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, or sex work, and could be referred by the social services system, mental health facilities or self-initiated, rather than solely due to substance abuse. In many societies, substance use both in general and among women is heavily stigmatized and cultural norms may make it difficult for women to acknowledge such a problem or leave their homes and families to undergo treatment.

Women are twice as likely as men to use tranquillizers, but both have roughly equal levels of use of prescription opioids.

gender differences use of illicit drugs

Women’s greater use of tranquilizers may be explained by findings showing 

women with substance-use disorders tend to have a history of overresponsibility in their families of origin and have experienced more disruptions and report more interpersonal conflicts in the family than their male counterparts, particularly issues related to parenting and exposure to childhood and adult trauma. Women with substance-use disorders may come from families where one or more family members is also drug dependent and may have suffered victimization and injury. Many women identify relationship problems as a cause for their substance use. In addition, psychiatric co-morbidities, especially mood and anxiety disorders, are reported to be higher among women and these disorders typically predate the onset of substance-use problems.


PWID affected with HIV

Approximately 40 per cent of the estimated global total number of PWID (people who inject drugs) living with HIV reside in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, mostly in the Russian Federation and Ukraine. East and South-East Asia contribute a further 20 per cent to the global total number of PWID living with HIV, although both the prevalence of injecting drug use and the prevalence of HIV among PWID are below their respective global averages. It is the large population aged 15-64 residing in this region that translates into the relatively large number of PWID living with HIV. South-West Asia, the region with the highest prevalence of HIV among PWID, contributes 12 per cent to the total global number of PWID living with HIV, with a large proportion of these residing in Pakistan. Four countries, the Russian Federation, China, Pakistan and the United States (in descending order), when combined account for nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of the total global estimated number of PWID living with HIV.

In many countries, women who inject drugs are more vulnerable to HIV infection than their male counterparts and that the prevalence of HIV is higher among women who inject drugs than among their male counterparts. The transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C and the occurrence of drug overdoses are only some of the risk factors that lead to the level of mortality among people who inject drugs being nearly 15 times higher than would normally be expected among people of comparable age and gender in the general population.

prevalence of hiv among pwid

Drug dependency treatment services

Treatment of drug dependence need to be provided through a continuum of care service and may be in the form of pharmacological, psychosocial, and social rehabilitation and after-care services. Based on the report,

there is a greater level of pharmacological and psychosocial services and interventions in Europe than in other regions, particularly Western and Central Europe, where higher levels of opioid substitution also reflect the fact that opioids are the major substance for which drug users receive treatment in the region. In other regions, Governments may not yet be ready to address drug dependence with pharmacologically-assisted treatment, leading to limited coverage of such programmes.

global extent drug dependency pharmacological treatment services

global drug dependency psychosocial treatment services

In Africa, the fact that counselling is more available than other types of intervention could be due to cannabis being the most common substance for which drug users receive treatment. However, most drug treatment services in the region are provided in specialized psychiatric hospitals, which may explain why there is a considerable number of interventions in the treatment of psychiatric comorbidities in Africa, although the lack of other types of intervention in Africa may also indicate limited responses to treatment needs in general.

global drug dependency socialrehab aftercare treatment services

Not only are available services for the treatment of drug use disorders and dependence limited in most countries, there is an overall lack of provision of a continuum of care in interventions to address drug use disorders and drug dependence adequately among those in need of these interventions.

Countries who reported having alternative development strategies in place

countries with alternative development 2010-2013

Alternative development is one of the three pillars (the other two being, crop eradication and interdiction ie. law enforcement measures) in the international community’s “balanced approach” toward drug control which has been a key supply reduction strategy for several decades. Emerging in the late 1980s from the more narrowly focused crop substitution initiatives of the 1970s and the integrated rural development approach of the 1980s, the concept of alternative development has been implemented around the world for over 40 years. Alternative development is not generally an objective in itself but rather a means to an end: it is aimed at contributing to an enabling environment for longterm rural development without illicit crop cultivation.

impact of alternative development on illicit drug trade

(The UN) General Assembly defined alternative development as a “process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances through specifically designed rural development measures in the context of sustained national growth and sustainable development efforts in countries taking action against drugs, recognizing the particular sociocultural characteristics of the target communities and groups, within the framework of a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem of illicit drugs”. While this definition is used at the international level, different definitions reflecting new strategies and approaches toward alternative development have been developed by a wide variety of implementing countries, donors and practitioners. Alternative development is a concept in constant flux.
Alternative development is sometimes described as “conventional rural development applied to a drug-producing area”, “development in a drugs environment” or “development-oriented drug control”. This does not mean that the purpose of alternative development is limited to purely counter-narcotics objectives. National strategies may vary, but the specific purpose of alternative development in its present, broader meaning is to contribute to economic development (especially in rural areas) in order to target the underlying factors and root causes of illicit drug economies.

To better frame the drug problem thus design a responsive preventive strategy and interventions, we need to know and understand the factors that increase a person’s vulnerability to drug use:

factors increasing vulnerability to drug use

There is no single cause of drug use and addiction. Vulnerability to drug use is due to a variety of factors, whether stemming from the individual or from developmental contexts. The interplay between these factors ultimately either increases or attenuates an individual’s vulnerability to substance use. This is why there is no “silver bullet” remedy for prevention, although multi-causality also offers many starting points for preventive activity (that could take place in various) settings significant to the target group — family, school, workplace, community, media and leisure settings.
Groups with a higher risk, such as children with a substance dependent parent, should be approached in a different manner to population groups in which the majority does not tend to use psychoactive substances, such as school pupils. Prevention programming takes this into account by providing strategies for the population at large (universal prevention), for groups that are particularly at risk (selective prevention) and for individuals that are particularly at risk (indicated prevention, which also includes individuals that might have started experimenting and are therefore at particular risk of progressing to disorders).

The developmental notion of drug use behaviour implies that prevention should incorporate not only drug-specific components, but also skills that help individuals to deal effectively with the challenges of each phase of life, such as relationship skills for adolescents or parenting skills for parents. In fact, drug prevention is aimed at supporting the safe and healthy development of children and youth, but may also include, when relevant, additional aspects specifically related to drugs around the age of drug use
initiation.

(A) broader strategy of “alternative development” (was) developed at the international level by UNFDAC in the second half of the 1980s, which sought to improve the integration of regional development assistance with law enforcement initiatives, while promoting the appropriate coordination and sequencing of those interventions. Flexible law enforcement in countering illicit cultivation — with law enforcement interventions being carefully timed in order to be supportive of the development effort, and undertaken once the basic conditions for acceptable alternative living standards had been achieved — was considered to be an integral and fundamental part of alternative development. Alternative development interventions sought to have a more sustainable impact by creating local organizations and farmers’ associations to facilitate the production, distribution and marketing of products.

The 2006 Afghan National Drug Control Strategy made a specific reference to alternative livelihoods as the main approach to addressing illicit cultivation. Meanwhile, other strategies, such as the approaches adopted by the European Union, Colombia and Peru, continue to use the concept of alternative development to address underlying drivers of illicit cultivation (for example, marginalization and poverty) in a way that is very similar to the alternative livelihoods approach.

Alternative development continues to be relevant as long as drug crops are grown illicitly and development and security challenges that are specific to areas where drugs are cultivated remain. However, it offers no quick-fix solution to the supply side of the illicit drug economy as a stand-alone strategy. Previous evaluations of alternative development have already shown that success is very situation specific and that there are few, if any, practices that can be plugged into a template. As was noted in the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2005, “there is no manual or definitive guidelines for alternative development”. However, with the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, a set of general guidelines that contain good practices for planning and implementing alternative development now exist.

Donor contributions to alternative development

Over the past four decades, alternative development has largely been funded by external donors, including countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in North America, Europe and Oceania, and non-OECD countries such as China, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Saudi Arabia and Thailand. In recent years, there has been a trend towards more project funding by countries that were traditionally recipients of such assistance, such as Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Colombia, Peru and Thailand.

international assistance to alternative development

According to the OECD International Development Statistics, in the period from 1998, when the Political Declaration and its associated Action Plan on International Cooperation on the Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development were adopted by the General Assembly, to 2013, global commitments by OECD countries for providing alternative development in developing countries amounted in total to, on average, $219 million per year (as expressed in 2012 dollars), of which 89 percent was for agriculture-related alternative development and 11 per cent was for non-agriculture related alternative development activities such as income opportunities in other sectors, social and physical infrastructure and nonagricultural training and capacity-building.

And we thought our greatest problem were the numerous shoes of Imelda Marcos! But I do understand the need for our 70 year-old President to belt it out on the karaoke sometimes. Ma-buang ka talaga just trying tonvisualize the global transit points in the illicit drug trade.

But, seriously, Congress need to discuss the drug problem as it is happening and evolving in this country, and understanding that, craft a national drug control/management strategy. National and local governments should develop financing strategies to generate funds for it’s implementation. These strategies should align with current national strategies on urban development, housing, employment (eg. OFW support, counselling services), poverty alleviation (eg. 4Ps, agricultural development), and yes, early childhood care and development as well as adolescent and youth development and parenting education.

See, when the President told his critics in the Church to shut up and instead help him solve the problem he really means it. Drug abuse is a developmental issue and the Church with it’s Basic Ecclessial Communities (BEC) strategy and capacity to counsel, provide spiritual refuge, etc. has a big role to play in prevention. Ironically, it’s media and people around the President who don’t get the point of his remarks. They go away from press conferences to coin terminologies such as EJKs and Tokhang which are redactions of the real problem and then sell these to the public as “the truth and nothing but the truth”. Media has not been part of the solution.

Of course, those who know better could always take the road favored by the lazy which is what Congress is doing now: suspects are cornered, media are called in, and when cameras start to roll, they yak at the suspects making sure to throw in humungous terminologies the (illiterate) suspects believed were names of past honorables, all on cue for the camera, until it’s time to call it a day, a week, a month, a year. At the close of the year, SALNs will read PHP12M or so richer. Goodness! Are these actors paid per show? Out in the real world, citizens, in offices, factories, schools, stores, farms, etc., are at their jobs 12 hours a day every day in order to remit taxes to their government. Meanwhile, the problem is still out there waiting for it’s next victim. Everybody’s so good at staying within the scope of their roles that this thing goes like clockwork, a script rehashed year after year, one decade after another.

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