The claim of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that there are about 4.5 million drug addicts in the Philippines needs context.
During the question-and-answer portion of the president’s meeting with members of Asia Society in New York last Sept. 23, he discussed plans to address the drug problem in the Philippines.
Commenting on how former president Rodrigo Duterte’s strategy relied heavily on enforcement, Marcos Jr. said:
“My approach is slightly different. We look at the drug problem in the Philippines and it is a significant one. There are approximately, I suppose according to official statistics, close to four and a half million actual addicts in the Philippines.”
While the results from the 2019 National Household Survey on the Patterns and Trends of Drug Abuse released by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) show that there are 4.7 million lifetime users of drugs aged 10 to 69, only around 1.67 million, or two out of 100 Filipinos, are considered “current drug users.”
Current drug users pertain to individuals who are presently using or have used illegal drugs more than once from December 2019 to February 2020, the period when the survey was conducted.
On the other hand, the survey refers to lifetime users as those who have used dangerous drugs or substances at least once in their lifetime. This does not immediately equate to drug addiction.
The American Psychological Association defines addiction as “a state of psychological or physical dependence (or both) on the use of alcohol or other drugs.”
Section 4.a of the Philippine Mental Health law also considers addiction as a mental health illness characterized by the “inability to consistently abstain impairment and behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behavior and interpersonal relationships and a dysfunctional emotional response.”
In an in-depth report published by Philstar.com in 2017, then-DDB chairman Benjamin Reyes explained the difference between drug use and dependence.
“Dependence would now exhibit certain behaviors na hindi natin nakikita sa normal. Samantalang ‘yung using, maaaring normal pa ‘yung behavior niya,” he said.
(Dependence would now exhibit certain behaviors we don’t see in a normal person. On the other hand, those ‘using’ may still have normal behavior.)
In response to VERA Files Fact Check’s inquiry on the latest total number of drug addicts in the country, DDB said its available data is the number of admissions to treatment and rehabilitation centers reported through the Treatment and Rehabilitation Admission Information System (TRAIS).
The data show that in 2021, there were 2,708 admissions recorded from 63 treatment and rehabilitation facilities. This does not include reports from law enforcement agencies.
Both the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) have yet to respond to the same inquiry.
However, the 2021 annual accomplishment report of the PNP shows that as of December 2021, there were 1,225,683 Persons Who Used Drugs (drug surrenderers). The latest figures for drug addicts or users are not available in the statistics provided by PDEA through Realnumbersph.
Throughout his term, Duterte had repeatedly made conflicting and changing statements on the number of drug addicts in the country.
Citing former DDB chief Dionisio Santiago, he initially claimed that there were 3 million Filipino drug addicts, but a 2016 DDB survey showed that there were 1.8 million current drug users in the country.
Duterte’s claim that there were 1.6 million drug surrenderees in 2018 also contradicted the 1.3 million figure reported by former PNP chief Bato Dela Rosa.
In early 2019, the former president again revised his count, claiming that these two figures covered only Metro Manila and that the nationwide total was actually at 7 to 8 million drug addicts. (See: VERA FILES FACT CHECK: 3 years into the drug war, Duterte again revises drug addict count)
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Office of the Press Secretary, Speech by President Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. at the Meeting with Asia Society (with Q&A), Sept. 24, 2022
RTVMalacañang, Meeting with Asia Society (Speech) 9/23/2022, Sept. 24, 2022
Dangerous Drugs Board, 2019 National Household Survey on the Patterns and Trends of Drug Abuse, Oct. 14, 2020
American Psychological Association, Substance use, abuse, and addiction
Official Gazette, Republic Act No. 11036, June 20, 2018.
Philstar.com, 4M drug users ‘in the realm of possibility,’ DDB insists, Feb. 7, 2017
Dangerous Drugs Board, 2021 statistics, June 20, 2022
Philippine National Police, PNP Annual Accomplishment Report, 2021