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On the Road to Rehabilitation: Helping Families Prevent Drug Use in Palawan

With the dedication of local government leaders, families and Australia’s support, Palawan is making headway in family-based recovery program against illicit drug use

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Teri Acda is a provincial health worker in Palawan tasked by the Provincial Government to lead the campaign against illicit drugs in the province. With no previous training on responding to drug issues, she delved into reading materials on drug use. She also joined an immersion in a drug rehabilitation center in Tagaytay and Batangas City to observe their rehabilitation methods and livelihood programs.

Applying what she learned, Teri redesigned the drug recovery program in Palawan, focusing on family and community support.

While the Palawan drug recovery program was helping people who use drugs in the province, Teri was frustrated by the lack of financial support and heavy workload. The Palawan drug recovery program, which covered 26 barangays in 8 municipalities, only had a small annual budget for a community-based drug treatment and care program. Teri and her colleagues had to sacrifice their time, effort, and at times, even personal money, for their initiatives to push through.

It was also not unusual for Teri and the volunteers to travel 8 hours to reach persons who use drugs in remote locations. While they were tired and overwhelmed, they were overjoyed by the eagerness of the people to join their activities – the people who use drugs themselves and their families shared their time, food and other resources to help the program. They produced their own visuals and other learning aids by hand, with materials they gathered around the community.

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Teri Acda leads the community outreach program for persons who use drugs and their families

In 2018, the Palawan’s drug recovery program added efforts to get the youth to understand risk and protective factors for substance use and addiction. It was this time that Teri chanced upon the international standards and guidelines for community-based drug treatment and care from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in the Philippines.

At that time, neither Teri nor the Provincial Government had ever heard of work of UNODC. She immediately sought out UNODC in the Philippines, which provided Teri with information on drug use prevention and treatment standards.

Since 2017, Australia has been supporting UNODC in implementing projects under its health and drugs mandate. Through this partnership, the Palawan program received training and technical advice on drug use prevention and treatment, including training for law enforcement groups on service provision for people affected by drug use and dependence.

With assistance from UNODC and Australia, Teri learned the multifaceted nature of drug use and dependence. She also learned the scientific evidence behind drug use prevention, treatment, recovery, and aftercare.

With these knowledge and skills, she convinced the Provincial Government of Palawan to expand its financial investment towards enhancing the services around drug prevention, treatment, and aftercare. “We built our case for financial support from the provincial government by incorporating UNODC’s data, studies, and evidence-based materials. I believe that it made a lot of difference to policy-makers, seeing that our program is informed and anchored by a credible source,” said Teri.

With these efforts, Palawan program’s budget increased significantly. The additional funding, dedication of program staff, and Teri’s leadership allowed Palawan to improve its drug demand reduction efforts and expand its services to include family skills-based training on drug use prevention. Teri and her team delivered the training to over 1,000 mothers, fathers, caregivers, and children in remote island barangays in Palawan.

“The program’s positive impact on families in the community is enormous. I sincerely congratulate Ma. Teresa Acda and her team, for undertaking and supporting the thrust of the national government in support of the Philippine Anti-illegal Drug Strategy. We hope to continue the program and reach out to more families, especially those in remote and at-risk areas in Palawan”, said Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez.

Australia and its partners the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organisation have been assisting the Philippines in setting up a drug treatment and rehabilitation program for the communities. Australia supports local initiatives that contribute to providing persons who use drugs adequate access to treatment and support that is evidence-based and respectful of human rights.

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