The Philippines' antidrug campaign: Spatial and temporal patterns of killings linked to drugs


  • 1 Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines.
  • 2 Ateneo School of Government, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines; Graduate Studies Department, College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines. Electronic address: [email protected].
  • 3 Department of Communication, De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines.
  • PMID: 31446164
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.07.035

Background: As soon as President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in 2016, the Philippine government launched a nationwide antidrug campaign based on enforcement-led anti-illegal drugs policies primarily implemented by the national police. This was followed by a spate of killings resulting from both acknowledged police operations and by unidentified assailants. This study assembles a victim-level dataset of drug-related killings covered by the media during the Philippine government's antidrug campaign, and presents a spatial and temporal analysis of the killings.

Methods: The dataset covers information on 5021 people killed from May 10, 2016 to September 29, 2017. Data collected systematically through online search procedures and existing listings of media organizations detailing information about incidences of drug-related police operations and drug-related killings in 'vigilante-style' manner reveal patterns for who were being killed, where, and how.

Results: Over half of the killings were due to acknowledged police operations, and the rest were targeted in so-called 'vigilante-style' killings. The first three months after Mr. Duterte was sworn in were the deadliest months. Those who were killed were mostly low-level drug suspects. The analysis of temporal pattern reveals the scale of killings in the country, with rapid escalation starting in July 2016 and lasting throughout the rest of that year. Observable declines occurred during periods when the 'drug war' was suspended and operations were moved to a non-police enforcement unit and rose again when police were brought back into operations. The spatial analysis indicates a large concentration of deaths in the National Capital Region (40%) compared to the rest of the country with wide variations across cities and regions.

Conclusions: Overall, the Philippine 'drug war' exhibits similarities with violent wars on drugs waged in other countries such as Thailand, with heavily police-led interventions leading to fatalities in the thousands over a span of under two years. Findings of this study point to important policy adjustments that need to be made, including the role that local governments play in drug policy implementation, the disproportionate negative impacts of enforcement-led policies against drugs on urban and poor areas, the targeting of low-level suspected drug dealers and users, and the importance of proper data monitoring and transparency by the government to inform policy adjustments in the face of high costs to human life. We also discuss the importance of independent monitoring systems when the government reports conflicting information.

Keywords: Antidrug campaign; Dataset; Drug war; Killings; Philippines.

Copyright © 2019. Published by Elsevier B.V.

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My apologies. This is not an abstract but a note. I made this rough draft when I was in high school so it is really messy and it lacks citation. My bad. It's been what? A couple of years since I put it here. Citations for this paper: 1. I got the R.A. from the talk I had with my teacher. I just researched it on the Official Gazette of the Philippines to confirm it. 2. I read a lot of news about drugs that time hence, I didn't know who to cite since it came all from different news in t.v., health teachers, etc. Note: This was my homework when I was still a second year? or third year? I don't really remember.

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UN Philippines chief calls for science-based prevention and treatment to break cycle of drug abuse

Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez

Mr. Gustavo Gonzalez says, "Addressing drug abuse and illegal trafficking requires understanding the 'big picture' of the problem"

United Nations (UN) Philippines Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez gave opening remarks at the National Substance Use Science Policy and Information Forum on Substance Use in the Philippines: Governance, Research and Practice on 15 June 2021.

Watch his message

The text of his message follows:

Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Congresswoman “Helen” Tan, Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, Secretary Francisco Duque III, members of the Academia, Rhodora Azanza, Carmencita Padilla, Dr. Armando Crisostomo, members of the National Academy of Science and Technology and the Asian Center for Drug Policy, Dear guests,  Magandang Umaga sa inyong lahat !   Buenos dias a todos . Good morning dear partners and friends!

Today we have our first ever “National Substance Use Science Policy and Information Forum”, which is happening just days before the “International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking” 

The theme of the International Days is  “Share Facts on Drugs. Save Lives”, which is very much aligned with the spirit of today’s Forum, where we highlight the importance of knowledge and research in lives saving.

As we know, “drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking” continue to negatively impact on development and stability in countries across the world, the Philippines included.

The global manufacture of cocaine reached again an “all-time high” of more than 1,700 tons in 2018, and the quantities of seized methamphetamine reached a new “record high” in 2018, at 228 ton-equivalents.

Still worst, traffickers have adapted to new controls and changed their routes and and develop new trading patterns. We are in front of very resilient networks.

More than a quarter of a billion people around the globe “use drugs” and over 35 million people “suffer” from drug use disorders.

I am sure you’re following the statistics for the Philippines, where the prevalence of drug use is 2.05%, the equivalent of 1.7 million Filipinos.  As across the globe, the Philippine drug problem is deeply intertwined with wide a range of factors: poverty, inequalities, poor access to health care, and systemic problems in governance.

The burden of drug production and trafficking as well as of organized crime is -ultimately- borne by individuals and communities with lower socio-economic resources. A perverse and vicious circle.  

For that reason, taking into account the social, economic and  cultural contexts and addressing the underlying health, economic and social causes of drug use is critical to reduce harm to the individual and society rather than stigmatizing drugs as “a social evil”.

But this approach -which is recognizing the complexities of the problem instead of looking for scape goats- cannot succeed if it’s not supported by further scientific and evidence-based work. Without those evidence, we cannot formulate the required polices on drug use.

The drug, crime and corruption conventions of the United Nations form a solid foundation for solutions to these global problems. But these need to be complemented with localized versions which are based on scientific work and nuanced in the local culture and practice.

As you know, the United Nations Country Team in Philippines has just updated its cooperation framework with the country. This revision is working on the assumption that the COVID19 pandemic can also be a “game changer”. We can harness the recovery phase from the pandemic to accelerate some pending or delayed transformations. In this context, we have placed the human rights agenda at the heart of our mission in the country.

And as you know, we have just finalized, in close cooperation with the Government, the Commission on Human Rights and civil society the first ever United Nations Joint Programme on Human Rights.

This new Joint Programme has six components, and one of them is the Human Rights-Based Approach to Drugs. This technical cooperation investment represents a great opportunity to engage with the local academia to generate scientific evidence that can be used to make decisions, craft policies and develop programmes from a localized Filipino perspective.

Breaking the cycle of drugs, marginalization and poor socioeconomic prospects requires programmes that link “science-based drug use prevention and treatment” as well as “policies that prevent individuals and communities in participating in drug trafficking and production”, with “efforts to improve public health, increase economic development and public security, and reduce socio-economic inequalities”.

Addressing drug abuse and illegal trafficking requires understanding the “big picture” of the problem…  where health, social, economic and security challenges play their role… Someone said that “the big picture doesn't just come from distance; it also comes from time”. Time where we reach consensus on solutions and we decide to work together.

Today’s event is helping us in getting such “big picture” for collaboration.

Mabuhay kayo!

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Just how big is the drug problem in the Philippines anyway?

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PhD candidate in Medical Anthropology, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR), University of Amsterdam

Disclosure statement

For his research on drug use in the Philippines, Gideon Lasco received funding from the University of Amsterdam's Global Health Research Priority Area.

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“Hitler massacred three million Jews … there’s three million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

These words, spoken by Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte in September, have become notorious worldwide.

Duterte has since apologised for the reference to the Holocaust. But alongside continued concern about the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines drug war, questions remain about whether there are actually three million drug users in the country – and whether they are addicts.

If true, drug users would represent 3% of the nation’s population – even higher than Thailand’s 1.8% (based on a recent estimate of 1.2 million), or Indonesia’s 1.8% based on an official (but questionable) estimate of 4.5 million .

Are there really three million “drug addicts” in the Philippines?

The official statistics show a much lower figure. In 2015, the Philippine Dangerous Drugs Board estimated a total of 1.8 million drug users . Of this number, 859,150 were thought to be users of shabu or crystal methamphetamine – the drug of particular concern in the country.

The term “user” was defined in the report as someone who had used drugs at least once in the past year. Of all drug users, 85% reported using at least once monthly and 50% cited weekly use. Thus the number of drug “abusers” or “addicts” is necessarily lower than that.

Still, we can’t dismiss Duterte’s claims on the sole basis of the 2015 survey or previous ones, given the variability of their results.

In 2005, the drugs board reported five million regular users of methamphetamine alone - amounting to a prevalence of 6% of the country. This prompted the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to suggest that the Philippines has the “the world’s highest methamphetamine prevalence rate” at the time.

But just three years later, the prevalence was reported to be only 1.9% .

Given the poor quality of the reports themselves (the 2008 report cites Wikipedia as reference), it’s unclear whether they reflect actual changes, or merely methodological flaws.

Duterte’s philosophy of drug use

While Duterte’s figures cannot be definitively dismissed, his view of drug users can be. His use of the term adik (addict) - a word that has very negative connotations in the Philippines - is in line with his conviction that users of illicit drugs, particularly methamphetamines, are beyond redemption.

He has claimed, for instance, that the continuous use of shabu would “ shrink the brain ”, making users “ no longer viable as human beings in this planet ”. Based on these statements, and contrary to his own government’s official stance and efforts , Duterte seems to think rehabilitation is not an option.

Numerous studies present a far more complex picture. While methamphetamine has indeed been demonstrated to cause damage to neurons and the brain’s white matter , various therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy and to a lesser extent, pharmacotherapy , have shown promise as forms of rehabilitation.

What’s more, alternative models of dealing with substance abuse, including those that employ demand-reduction and harm-reduction frameworks , strongly suggest that drug use is embedded in, and in part determined by, users’ social and physical environment .

My own ethnographic research among young drug users in a poor urban community in the Philippines resonates with these perspectives. Caught in an informal economy where income opportunities are scarce and living conditions are harsh, shabu allows the youths to stay awake and work at night, gives them energy, alleviates their hunger, and provides them with moments of euphoria amid their difficult lives.

While some of them exhibit signs of addiction (they have gaunt, hollowed-out faces, for instance), most remain functional. And while some of them admit to resorting to crime (such as stealing mobile phones), the only crime most commit is taking drugs.

Educational and economic opportunities, I found, can help them move away from drug use – and prevent many others from using drugs in the first place.

A widely held view

Duterte’s philosophy of drug use is shared by many Filipinos, and has common since the very beginning of the “war on drugs” in the early 1970s. In 1972, Filipino bishops described drug users as “mental and physical wrecks”, calling them “worst saboteurs” who were “worthy of the highest punishments”.

In 1988, the Philippine Supreme Court, foreshadowing Duterte’s assertions, wrote in one of its decisions that it was:

Common knowledge that drug addicts become useless if not dangerous members of society and in some instances turn up to be among the living dead.

In many towns and cities in the Philippines, anti-drug posters (with messages like “Get high on God, not on drugs”) are displayed prominently, as if to demonstrate public’s resolve to get rid of what they see as society’s great menace.

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These sentiments underwrite the widespread support that Duterte’s war on drugs enjoys. And although a majority of Filipinos think drug suspects should not be killed , many see the extrajudicial killings as a necessary evil to get rid of the far worse menace of drug addicts and the criminality associated with them.

In light of this attitude, what must be most urgently addressed is the lack of understanding about drug use and the dearth of information about the true extent and nature of drug use in the country. That means scholarly and journalistic investigations that fill these gaps must be communicated effectively to the public.

Otherwise, the official discourse and popular understandings of drug use will remain unchallenged - and the “three million addicts” in the Philippines will all be deserving of the “highest punishment” in the eyes of their fellow Filipinos.

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Assessing Methamphetamine Use Among Drug-Using Filipino Youth

Leonardo  estacio, jr..

Leonardo Estacio, Jr., University of Washington, United States; University of the Philippines-Manila, Philippines

Background: Methamphetamine emerged as a drug of abuse in the late 1980s in the Philippines. However, its impact on the lives of Filipino youth remains understudied and unmeasured, which this study attempts to explore.

Methods: Using rapid assessment methods, 280 youth age 16–25 were recruited and interviewed using multistage sampling in three sites in Rizal Province in 2003. A structured survey questionnaire measured knowledge of methamphetamine and other drugs and their effects, self-report of drug use, awareness of drug laws, and demographics, among others.

Results: Findings showed that 16 percent of the youth, mostly male, used methamphetamine for personal and family problems (33%), peer influence (14%), curiosity (13%), and relaxation (5%) and because of idleness (3%). First drug use was at age 14 with inhalants, at age 15 with cough preparations, at age 16 with tobacco and cigarettes, and at age 17 with methamphetamine and marijuana, respectively. All respondents were initiated to methamphetamine and other drugs by their peers. Drug use continued for reasons of enjoyment (25%), because of a friend’s continuous use (15%), for lack of parental guidance (6%), and to forget problems (5%). Initiation and use of methamphetamine was characterized by its availability through street-level pushing, peer use, and lack of law enforcement.

Conclusion: Use of methamphetamine and other drugs is prevalent among Filipino youth. As such, intervention programs are needed. These interventions should address prevention vis-a-vis peer influence, street-pushing, and drug harm; treatment of current users; and policies that support community-level interventions.

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Marijuana linked to mental health risks in young adults, growing evidence shows

Drawn illustration of a profile-view of a human head, as a silhouette of a person is being tangled in marijuana plant leaves.

Over the last decade of diagnosing countless young patients with new psychotic disorders, one striking result has stuck out for New York City psychiatrist Dr. Ryan Sultan.

“Of all the people I’ve diagnosed with a psychotic disorder,” he said, “I can’t think of a single one who wasn’t also positive for cannabis.” 

Sultan, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia Irving Medical Center, is one of many experts raising serious concerns about the increasing marijuana use by adolescents and young adults.

And the evidence is growing of marijuana’s association with psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, especially in young men. 

research paper about drug abuse in the philippines

Study links young adults' marijuana use and mental health illness

New research published this month, involving millions of people worldwide over decades, is adding to worries that heavy use of high-potency cannabis and legalization of recreational weed in many U.S. states could exacerbate the nation's mental health crisis in young adults.

“There is a big sense of urgency not just because more people are smoking marijuana, but because more people are using it in ways that are harmful, with higher and higher concentration of THC,” Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said in an interview. 

One of the studies, from researchers in Denmark in collaboration with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, found evidence of an association between cannabis use disorder and schizophrenia. The finding was most striking in young men ages 21-30, but was also seen in women of the same age. 

The paper, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, looked at data from almost 7 million men and women in Denmark over the course of a few decades to look for a link between schizophrenia and cannabis use disorder . 

research paper about drug abuse in the philippines

High-potency marijuana products pose new risks to teenagers

The magnitude of the connection between cannabis and schizophrenia for young men surprised study author Volkow, who was expecting the number to be closer to 10%.

“This is worrisome,” she said. 

There are now 22 states that allow recreational use of marijuana, with Minnesota likely to become the next state to legalize it. 

Whether recreational cannabis laws contribute to underage consumption is unclear, but Volkow has made addressing cannabis use among teenagers one of NIDA’s top priorities. Daily marijuana use among young adults has risen to record highs, with more than 1 in 10 of young adults ages 19-30 now reporting daily use, and almost half reporting use within the last year, according to the agency's most recent data.

Another study , led by Sultan and Columbia researchers published earlier this month, found that teenagers who use cannabis only recreationally are two to four times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders, including  depression and suicidality, than teenagers who don’t use cannabis at all.

Because research to date has been observational and doesn’t directly prove cause and effect, the connection between marijuana and psychiatric disorders is controversial. It’s unclear whether people who already have or are developing psychiatric conditions are more likely to turn to cannabis as a way to self-medicate or whether cannabis use triggers mental problems.

Volkow is optimistic that a large ongoing study on adolescent brain development at the National Institutes of Health can help answer this question.

Sultan acknowledged the limitations of the evidence. “It’s sort of this circular feedback where they’re kind of just feeding off each other,” he said. 

Dr. Deepak D’Souza, a psychiatrist at Yale University who has been studying cannabis for 20 years, insists there are too many lines of evidence to ignore. 

“We may be grossly underestimating the potential risks associated with cannabis,” he said. 

Given increasing legalization and rising potency in cannabis products, D’Souza has never been more worried about the mental health effects of cannabis use among youth.

“This is a massive concern,” he said. “We have been woefully inept in educating the public and influencing policy.” 

Is legalization affecting rates of marijuana use?

Early data suggests that in young adults ages 18-25, legalization is leading to higher rates of cannabis use, particularly in Oregon and Washington, according to an analysis published earlier this month in the journal Substance Abuse.

The research, led by researchers from McMaster University in Canada, found the evidence in other age groups a little less clear, and more research is needed to understand how legalization is affecting rates of cannabis use.  

In areas where marijuana becomes legal and easier to access, Volkow’s concern is the ease with which products can be mixed, leading to a high total dose of marijuana consumed. 

One of the biggest issues, she says, is the lack of regulation on the concentration of THC in products.

Marijuana consumed decades ago had concentrations of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient, of 2 to 3%, but cannabis products today can have THC levels as high as 90%.

“That’s not even the case for alcohol as you cannot put more than a certain percent alcohol into liquor,” she said. “The same thing with tobacco cigarettes, you regulate how much nicotine they have. Here, we have no regulation.”

THC potency is significant, Volkow said, because cannabis is more likely to be linked to psychosis with higher doses consumed. 

What age is the most vulnerable?

Research has shown that the human brain is the last organ to fully develop and doesn’t finish until the mid-to-late 20s. That makes adolescents and young adults particularly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis as their brains continue to mature. 

“Really, the ideal time to consider using weed — if you’re going to use it — is 26 or later,” Sultan said. 

People who wait until at least age 26 are much less likely to become addicted or develop mental disorders, said Dr. Sharon Levy, a pediatrician and addiction specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital. 

“The greatest risks are clearly in the adolescent and young adult age range,” she said.

However, people with a family history of a psychotic disorder shouldn’t use cannabis at all, Sultan cautioned

What does cannabis do to the brain?

Although scientists are still learning about the effects of marijuana on developing brains, studies so far suggest marijuana use in teenagers may affect functions such as attention, memory and learning , multiple studies have found.

“It’s somehow interfering with the connections that we use in our brain to distinguish between what’s going on in our heads and what’s going on outside of our heads,” Levy said in reference to the psychotic symptoms that can happen. 

D’Souza added that cannabis use can have serious impacts on the developing brain because of its effects on the endocannabinoid system, a complex signaling system in the brain that marijuana targets. 

“Endocannabinoid systems play an important role in sculpting the brain during adolescence, which is when schizophrenia usually manifests itself,” he said.

Disturbing that system with cannabis use could have “far reaching complex implications on brain development.” 

research paper about drug abuse in the philippines

Akshay Syal, M.D., is a medical fellow with the NBC News Health and Medical Unit. 


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