Vice presidential candidate Willie Ong (Screeenshot from Isko Moreno's Facebook page)

MANILA – Instead of focusing on putting the drug dealers and users in prison, vice presidential aspirant Willie Ong on Wednesday urged the government to treat the war on drugs as public health concern.

Ong, a cardiologist, said the war on drugs should be science-based and that the government must adopt a health approach since drug addiction is a public health issue.

Since the Aksyon Demokratiko's proclamation rally last February 8, Ong has been saying that while the war on drugs is good, rehabilitation must be given focus.

He emphasized the need for psychiatrists and psychologists to help former drug users not to return to their vice.

"Kailangang-kailangan ‘yung rehab, ‘yung tulong sa mga drug addict na nasa 2 to 3 million sa ngayon. Dapat po science-based. Kailangan natin ng psychiatrist, psychologist. Kailangan din may access sa gamot para hindi na sila bumalik, addiction po ‘yan eh. Apektado ang utak ng users (There is really a need for rehabilitation. The help for drug addicts, probably now at 2 to 3 million, should be science-based. We need psychiatrists, psychologists, and access to medicines. Their brains are affected, because we're talking of addiction)," he said in the statement.

He also said many countries seem to focus on the "criminal aspect" of drug addiction, and this "eventually led to the failure of their respective anti-illegal drug policies."

“Palagay ko masyado tayong nag-focus sa paghuli. Kung gusto natin ma-eliminate ang illegal drugs, we should treat it as a public health concern. Kaya ‘yung UN nag-shift din ng mindset. Nakita nila based sa mga dialogue with scientific experts na social protection at healthcare ang lunas, hindi pagpapakulong (I think we have been so focused on arresting them. If we want to eliminate illegal drugs, we should treat it as a public health concern. The United Nations also shifted its mindset. Through dialogues with scientific experts, they realized that social protection and healthcare are the solutions, and not jailing)," he said.

Ong is also urging the national government to heighten efforts to eliminate stigma and discrimination toward persons suffering from drug addiction.

Prioritize evidence‐based interventions for substance use disorders, such as behavioral therapies and medication‐assisted treatment, the running mate of presidential aspirant Francisco "Isko Moreno" Domagoso suggested.

He added that the public may also engage in coordinated policymaking in public health, education, law enforcement, science, and healthcare systems.

"Such effort entails directing offenders to avenues for treatment, fighting drug production and trafficking, and creating opportunities that can reform communities dependent on the drug trade," he said. (PNA)