The prevalence of drug abuse and its effects on the physical and psychological well-being of an individual create complex health issue and social problems. #RealNumbersPH, the government’s unitary report which provides monthly tracking of information on operations, reported that as of June 2019, law enforcement agencies have conducted 134,583 anti-drug operations which resulted in the arrest of 193, 086 drug personalities including foreign nationals, elected officials, government employees, celebrities, among others.
With drug-related issues confronting the country, the administration of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has put up an intensified campaign to address the drug abuse problem. This has been evident on the supply and demand reduction efforts being undertaken by the government to curb the illegal drug menace.
The strategies laid out to address the drug problem are guided by the Philippine Anti-Illegal Drugs Strategy (PADS), institutionalized through Executive Order Number 66, Series of 2018, which was signed by President Duterte last October 29, 2018.
It directs all government offices, departments, bureaus, agencies including government-owned and control corporations, state universities and colleges to implement the PADS in accordance with the respective agency mandates.
The PADS is a comprehensive and balanced anti-drug strategy which puts premium on both supply and demand reduction initiatives. It intends to take away drugs from the public through market denial operations while discouraging drug abuse through massive preventive education, policy formulation, and treatment and rehabilitation.
Strengthening the conduct of demand reduction initiatives, the Dangerous Drugs Board has partnered with different government agencies, private entities, and non-government organizations. Also playing an important part in this aspect of the campaign are dedicated individuals from all over the country who took on the roles as prevention practitioners. They carry out the implementation of evidence-based drug abuse prevention interventions which target individuals, families, schools, and communities. One of the most active prevention practitioners in the country is Professor Francis Grace Duka – Pante. An educator by profession, she started to be involved in the science of drug prevention when she was a volunteer teacher, a “Gurong Pahinungod” in Cuyo, Palawan. After serving in Palawan, she went back to Manila, and worked as a Health Educator in the University of the Philippines Integrated School. She later on transferred to UP College of Education and became a member of the ASEAN Training Center for Preventive Drug Education (ATCPDE) drug education committee.
About two decades today, she is now the directress of ATCPDE which was established primarily to have a unified prevention effort for a drug-free ASEAN. It was founded on November 30, 1979 during the fourth meeting of ASEAN Senior Officials on Drug Matter (ASOD).
The center is focused on providing technical assistance and preventive education trainings, not only in the Philippines, but for the ASEAN member states as well.
For Professor Francis Grace Duka-Pante, it is important for prevention practitioner to set a good example. “You should be able to walk your talk,” she said.
With prevention science being relatively new in the field, policy makers and decision makers are in the process of adopting evidence-based policies and programs according to international standards.
She also shared the efforts of the center to curb drug abuse among the youth. With funding support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the center was able to train 60 high school students from three public schools in Metro Manila, particularly from Navotas, San Juan, and Mandaluyong. The activity is focused on peer-based life skills training, which was also supported by the DDB training team from the Preventive Education Training and Information Division (PETID).
Professor Pante acknowledged the fact that there are many problems related to drugs. “I think these prevention efforts really need to be sustained to make a difference in the world,” she stated.
The health educator also highlighted that doing advocacy is easy, the real challenge is sustaining the prevention efforts. Noting that “there is power in numbers”, she calls on to continue collaborating and strengthening linkages between the established networks.
“Turn our passion into purpose. I believe that our bigger purpose is to make a difference not only in the Philippines, but in the world,” she said.
The government recognizes the efforts of the different sectors of the society and has committed to address the drug abuse problem using a two pronged approach—drug supply reduction and drug demand reduction. While law enforcement operations have been enhanced and strengthened to combat the supply of illegal drugs, the Dangerous Drugs Board continues to partner with different government agencies and stakeholders to strengthen drug prevention initiatives and capacitate the different sectors of the society on the ill effects of drugs.
The presence of other government agencies and private organizations as members and partners of the Board shows the holistic approach that the government has since adopted in the crusade against drugs. As it employs the whole-of-nation approach in resolving the country’s drug abuse problem, the administration calls on the participation of all sectors of the society to be proactive in participating in drug prevention and control initiatives in the attainment of drug-free communities, and a drug-free ASEAN.
This collaboration continues to inspire Professor Pante’s drug abuse prevention advocacy. “The center was able to establish strong relationship and healthy collaboration with the Dangerous Drugs Board, Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, the Philippine Information Agency, Department of Health, and the University of the Philippines,” Professor Pante stated. “Considering the limited resources of the center, the fact that we were able to come up with a lot of accomplishments is really a major source of inspiration to continue,” she added.