In response to the glaring problems arising from addiction, particularly illegal substance abuse in the Philippines, experts from the country’s health sciences center, the University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila), formed the Technical Working Group on Addiction Science (TWGAS) and partnered with the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) and various organizations in 2018.
This is UP Manila’s first formal and multidisciplinary initiative, which aims to “tackle the problem of addiction from the academic point of view,” according to UP Manila Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. Armando C. Crisostomo. While the TWGAS focuses on research and teaching, it also aims to help generate scientific evidences as bases for crafting appropriate government policies.
Crisostomo, who is also the chairperson of the TWGAS, explained, “Addiction is a national issue. We have to partner with many organizations to provide a more meaningful perspective on addiction in this country. Emphasis has been placed on the criminal or police aspects of the problem. Of course there are issues that need to be resolved by the police, but we would like to view it more as a social and health problem that needs to be addressed.”
Members of the TWGAS started to convene as early as 2017, Crisostomo said, “with like-minded professionals from within the UP Manila community,” mainly from the College of Medicine, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing, College of Public Health, and the UP-Philippine General Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry and Family Medicine, coming together in 2018 for meetings, workshops, and partnerships leading to community-based treatment and rehabilitation of illegal drug users.
The TWGAS is concerned with both substance and behavioral addiction. Crisostomo explained that substance addiction includes consumption of legal substances (such as tobacco, alcohol, medicine, including pain killers) and illegal substances (such as methamphetamine or shabu, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin). Behavioral addiction, meanwhile, pertains to gambling, video gaming, sex, and others, as declared by the World Health Organization. The TWGAS will “not just focus on the illegal substances abuse but on addiction itself as an important public health problem which UP Manila, the health sciences center, must be able to address,” Crisostomo said.
The term “addiction science” is broad and covers various fields, not just medicine, Crisostomo explained. “We are using a broad definition. We have not scratched the surface of the other forms of addiction. We don’t want to call ourselves an ‘addiction medicine’ working group because we don’t want to confine ourselves to medicine as a field. Social scientists, nursing practitioners, barangay health workers, and even ordinary families deal with this problem; so ‘science’ covers all the things that we are trying to do,” he said.
Crisostomo reported that their two-day workshop on the community-based program, in partnership with DAP and other organizations, held on August 30 to 31, 2018, was just one of their activities. This workshop involved international and Filipino experts, social workers, barangay health workers, and participants from civic organizations and urban communities, where they were able to exchange best practices, generate evidence-based strategies, and come up with an initial framework for the curriculum on which they are working together.
The TWGAS also laid out its other programs, Crisostomo revealed, such as strengthening the teaching of addiction science in the undergraduate curriculum of UP Manila (in time for the opening of classes in August 2019) creating a fellowship in Addiction Medicine, and, developing a course in Master of Science in Addiction Counselling.
The Department of Psychiatry aims to offer a fellowship in Addiction Medicine, Crisostomo added. He said that completion of residency in either Psychiatry, Neurology, Family Medicine, General Pediatrics, or General Internal Medicine is required so that one can become a sub-specialist in addiction medicine. The Master of Science in Addiction Counselling being developed is to be hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS). These are among many other efforts to help the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of Health (DOH) develop and implement the community-based drug rehabilitation and treatment program for minor drug offenders, or those who constitute the overwhelming majority, or 80 to 90 percent of those suffering from addiction. “The curriculum will be a work in progress. We have to formally develop the final curriculum, pilot test it, develop the training materials, modules, then roll it out throughout the country in cooperation with the DILG. This will probably take at least 2 to 3 years,” Crisostomo said.
Among the members of the TWGAS are: Dean Leonardo Estacio and Prof. Laurie Ramiro of CAS; Prof. Angela Mabale of CN; Prof. Jonathan Guevarra of CPH; Dr. Benjamin Vista, Dr. Jojo Pascual, and Dr. Rowalt Alibudbud of the Dept. of Psychiatry; and Prof. Allan Dionisio of the Dept. of Family and Community Medicine.