VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Bong Go goes back and forth on how to treat drug addicts

Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go changed his view once more on how drug-addicted individuals should be dealt with, saying in a Sept. 29 Senate hearing that they must be treated as “victims in dire need of assistance.”

Go, in his public pronouncements and official press releases, uses the terms “drug addicts” and “drug dependents” interchangeably. However, the terms pertain to two different things.

The senator, who formerly served as special assistant to President Rodrigo Duterte, ran mainly on an anti-illegal drug and criminality campaign. Apart from SB 399, he also filed SB 207, which seeks to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes involving illegal drugs, among other offenses. Both measures remain pending in the committee level.

As of Aug. 31, 2020, official government data show at least 5,856 people have been killed in police anti-illegal drug operations since July 1, 2016.


Substance “dependence” pertains to a person’s “physical or physiological dependence, as indicated by tolerance and withdrawal symptoms,” according to an article by Canada-based clinical psychologist Jonathan Stea, published in November 2019 by Scientific American magazine. It does not equate to addiction but can be a feature of the latter, he said.

Addiction, on the other hand, is a “complex…brain disease” that manifests through “compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence[s],” as stated in an explainer by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

“People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems.”

Source: American Psychiatric Association, What Is Addiction?, January 2017

A person can be a drug dependent without being addicted, and vice versa, said Stea, an assistant professor in the University of Calgary specializing in the assessment and treatment of addictive and psychiatric disorders.

Under the APA’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the former categories of “substance abuse” and “substance dependence” were combined into one, Substance Use Disorder, and is “measured on a continuum from mild to severe.”

Effective treatments available for people with substance use disorders include the combined use of medication and individual or group therapy, among others, the APA said.



Senate of the Philippines, Senate Bill 399, July 11, 2019

Senate of the Philippines, Bong Go: maximize existing drug rehab facilities, give drug dependents chance to reform, Sept. 16, 2019

Ping Lacson official Youtube account, Sponsorship of the CHR Budget for 2020 | Nov. 18, 2019, Nov. 18, 2019

Commission on Human Rights, CHR Statement on the official invitation of the Philippines to the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, Dec. 21, 2016

Commission on Human Rights, CHR Statement on the Resumption of Oplan Tokhang, March 3, 2017

Office of the High Commission on Human Rights, Inputs to the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the implementation of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) joint commitment to effectively addressing and countering the world drug problem with regard to human rights, May 21, 2018

GMA News Online, I have body bags for drug addicts, fake news peddlers –Bong Go, April 12, 2020

Abante, Bong Go: May body bag para sa mga adik, nagkakalat ng fake news, April 12, 2020, I have body bags for drug addicts, fake news peddlers –Bong Go, April 12, 2020, Bong Go: May body bag para sa mga adik, nagkakalat ng fake news, April 12, 2020

Senate of the Philippines, Committee on Finance [Subcommittee ”C”] (September 29, 2020), Sept. 29, 2020

Bong Go official Facebook page, “Serbisyo, serbisyo, serbisyo…,” April 8, 2019

Senate of the Philippines, Senate Bill 207, July 2, 2019

RealNumbersPH official Facebook page, #RealNumbersPH Year 4, Sept. 25, 2020

Scientific American, Is There Really a Difference Between Drug Addiction and Drug Dependence?, Nov. 14, 2019

American Psychiatric Association, What Is Addiction?, January 2017

University of Calgary, Jonathan N. Stea, Accessed on Oct. 8, 2020

American Psychiatric Association, About DSM-5

American Psychiatric Association, Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders, Accessed on Oct. 8, 2020


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)