By Pola Esguerra del Monte
“You must remember that those who are already (using) shabu for almost one year, they are dead. They are the living walking dead. They are of no use to society anymore.” — Philippine President Rodrigo R. Duterte in a press conference on Aug. 21, 2016
This is what has become of many of those the President described as the walking dead. They have been murdered, bleeding out on the streets, their deaths triggered by alleged involvement in drugs.
But inside Quezon City’s massive 328,646-hectare Barangay Culiat — which has over 15 depressed areas — volunteers from the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) Philippines walk towards the third floor of the Barangay Hall to pierce drug surrenderees, not with bullets, but with needles.
Since July last year, acudetox specialists, or ADSes, through a partnership between NADA Philippines, barangays, and institutions such as the Santa Rafaela Maria House of Spirituality, have been providing relief to former drug addicts through acupuncture: a form of alternative medicine which involves the insertion of needles into the body, and a key component of traditional Chinese medicine. For this particular mission, they use five-point acupuncture for detox, using five needles that hit points that correspond to organs responsible for detoxifying.
During their pilot mission in Barangay Culiat, they treated 122 patients over three days. They also trained some residents to do the protocol.
On the first day, there was silence. ADSes reported that the patients were non-conversant, except when they were asked questions. There was anxiousness in their eyes, and a level of paranoia: some asked if the needles were tracking devices.
On the second day of treatment, changes were observed. The patients walked in calmer and were more relaxed, noting that they had better sleep. They began divulging details of their personal lives, opening up on how and where they got their supply of drugs. A number of them also reported experiencing excessive sweating and having a distinct body odor that they could not explain which the ADSes believed were the detoxifying effects of the five-point ear acupuncture.
FROM THE BRONX
This five-point acu-detox is known internationally as the NADA protocol; it was brought to the country by Janet P. Paredes, founder and board president of NADA Philippines, from its birthplace at the Lincoln Recovery Center in the Bronx, New York.
Back in 2003, Ms. Paredes was a counselor working for a non-governmental organization and a licensed practitioner of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) acupuncture, who had drug addiction and alcoholism cases arriving at her desk. She asked herself, “Is there a shorter modality of acupuncture that I could combine with counseling?” Her curiosity led her to Bronx-based Dr. Michael Smith, long-time director of the Lincoln Recovery Program and NADA founder, who, after being impressed by Ms. Paredes’ persistence to learn the ropes, provided her with a scholarship.
“Parang Tondo ’yan (It was like Tondo),” was how Ms. Paredes described the Bronx she went to in 2004. Unlike New York City’s famous Manhattan, the Bronx, she recalled, was a city filled with garbage and the threat of danger.
From Monday to Saturday, she would take the subway from Manhattan to the Lincoln Recovery Center, which was housed in a building that used to be the New York Department of Health. In its three floors were a clinic, counseling services, and a literacy program for drug dependents and alcoholics. Treatments were open to the public and given for free, thanks to funding from the Federal Government.
“Everyone you would see there were Latinos and African-Americans. You will not see a white American there because the Bronx is a totally different part of New York,” she described. “Some are referred by drug courts. Some are referred by other NGOs (nongovernment organizations). Some are on parole. Pwede sila bumalik sa prison (they could be returned to prison) if they do not engage in the treatment protocol kaya mandated ’yung kanilang treatment (since their treatment is mandatory). So kailangan talaga pumunta sila otherwise ’di sila papakawalan (They really needed to go otherwise, they wouldn’t be set free).”
“Inside the clinic,” Ms. Paredes continued, “there would be 60 chairs in a circle. There’s a table in the middle, and that’s where we sat. Patients would arrive early in the morning, and we’d start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m.”
Before getting treated, patients would have to raise their hand as a sign that they were ready. “Kasi yung iba, papasok na galit na galit (This was because some of the patients would enter the clinic full of rage),” she explained. “Rule ’yan ng clinic (that was the clinic’s rule): you have to settle down. You have to settle down before you are given a clinician.”
According to Ms. Paredes, the NADA protocol was first discovered by a Hong Kong neurosurgeon who operated on a drug dependent using three of these points and with the aid of a machine. After the operation, they found that the patient’s craving for drugs and alcohol was alleviated. Dr. Smith found out about it and adopted it at the Lincoln Recovery Center which, back in the 1970s, had no means of detoxification and was dependent on the use of methadone to treat addicts’ withdrawal symptoms. He added the additional acupuncture points that completed the NADA protocol as it is known today. At first, they supplemented this treatment with methadone, reducing the synthetic drug dosage slowly until it was all ear acupuncture.
Once a patient was ready, the clinicians went to work. Using five fine-gauge, sterilized, one-time use stainless steel needles just under the skin, clinicians targeted five points: the sympathetic point, which is associated with pain-killing; the shenmen point, which calms the mind, helps with sleep and nervous tension, and lowers blood pressure; the kidney point, which aids in digestion and is also associated with the calming of fear and improvement of willpower (in Chinese medicine, organs of the body are associated with specific emotions; imbalance in these emotions are said to cause illness); the liver point, which lifts depression, strengthens digestion, improves blood circulation, and helps aches and pains; and finally, the lung point, which controls breathing, cleanses skin, stops diarrhea, and aids the patient in letting go mentally.
“Knock-out ’yan pagkatapos (they are knocked out by the end),” Ms. Paredes said.
Her experience at the Lincoln Recovery Center sparked a fire in Ms. Paredes to not just use this protocol for her counseling, but to introduce it to drug rehabilitation centers.
But unlike the patients in the Bronx who came in the clinic filled with anger, the cases in the local rehab centers are the opposite: “Ang babait. Ang tatahimik (They are so good, so quiet),” she said. “Para kaming nagbibigay sa zombie. (It was as if we were treating zombies.)”
She would later on discover this was due to anti-depressants — prescription drugs used to treat major depressive disorders, as well as, in some cases, addiction.
In medicine, addiction — drug addiction is one of its many forms — is a brain disorder.
The World Health Organization defines substance abuse as “the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Psychoactive substance use can lead to dependence syndrome: a cluster of behavioral, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use and that typically include a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.”
Studies have shown that there is a correlation between substance abuse and poverty. In another report by the same organization, entitled “Substance use problems in developing countries,” it says that “[i]ncreased stressors and adverse events, such as overcrowded and polluted environments, poverty and dependence on a cash economy, high levels of violence and reduced social support have deleterious consequences for mental health in general and substance use problems in particular. Associated with poverty are unemployment, low education and deprivation, all contributing to higher prevalences of substance use disorders.”
Former health secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, who is also a licensed acupuncturist, said at a press conference on Traditional Chinese Medicine at the Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City last August that acupuncture is not yet in the picture in local drug rehabilitation .
“Yes, I agree that acupuncture is not yet in the protocol for drug rehabilitation but they are doing something about it right now,” he said, referring to a local institute that is lobbying for the inclusion of acupuncture in the drug rehab protocol. “We know more or less that acupuncture will be included in the protocol of the Department of Health when it comes to the rehabilitation services in the Department of Health. I think it will just be a matter of time… I think before December we will be able to include acupuncture in the services.”
Dr. Galvez Tan recalled that during his term in 1995, he signed an agreement for Chinese doctors to come to the Philippines to train Filipino doctors for five years. However, the secretaries that succeeded him were not interested in Chinese medicine. “They do not get it. The ones we trained in the 1990s are all retired,” he recounted. “There are now almost no doctors [who could administer acupuncture, unlike before where] they would have acupuncture in the government hospital. But right now, we hope that with the new health secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial, whom I have worked with [in the past]… by December we will get acupuncture [in the protocol].”
Meanwhile, acupuncture continues to be administered in local barangays, at least through the intervention of NADA Philippines.
But beyond focusing on the drug surrenderees, they are also performing acupuncture on the surrenderees’ families. “The breakdown of families has led to so many problems, and drug addiction is just one of them,” Ms. Paredes said.
“Maraming ganyan (there are a lot like that). Our experience in one certain community, 90% were drug users, pushers, and there were families there, buong pamilya, hanapbuhay na nung pamilya [ang drugs na]; as young as eight years old bibigyan lang ’yan ng P50 may package na siyang bitbit. ‘Pakidala ’to kay ganito, ha’ (the entire family, their livelihood revolves around drugs; that a child as young as eight years old can be handed P50 to deliver a package. ‘Give this to so-and-so.’),” Ms. Paredes said. “Hindi alam nung bata kung ano ’yung bitbit niya. Ang ginagawa nila inuutusan nila yung bata kasi minor ’yan. Kasi ’di naman ’yan makukulong (The child doesn’t know what he’s holding. What they do is they involve children because they are minors. They can’t be put in jail).”
Amid all the killing in the crackdown against drugs, Ms. Paredes remains hopeful about the future of needles — not bullets — in solving the drug problem. After all, she’s seen positive results in the Bronx.
“When I was there in 2004, I had patients na araw-araw talaga naandon (who were there every day) and you will see the change in their faces, the change in their aura, and the change in their temperament. We had cases na papasok galit na galit talaga, nagmumura (they would come in full of rage, spewing expletives). But when I returned in 2005, there were patients of mine who became volunteers already of the center. For me that was ‘wow kahit papano may leveling up na’ (in whatever way, they were leveling up). ’Yung isa, naging (One even became a) supervisor in the clinic. So I said to myself, this can happen. This can be done in the Philippines. It can be implemented in the Philippines.
“Maybe that is my vision with the present health problems of the Philippines na ang dami dami (which are numerous). We will zoom in on the NADA protocol helping communities,” she added. “Through the protocol, we see the change from an individual to the family because we empower an entire family and the community itself for them to do something about their health. And I think that small step, that small lesson that we teach, causes a domino effect… within the community without any expectation or without anything in return. And I think that’s really solid about the spirit here in the Philippines.”
To support NADA Philippines or inquire about getting acudetox training, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call Robert Sual, NADA admin assistant at +63917-350-7731. To learn more about NADA Philippines and its projects, visit the website www.nadaphilippines.com.