• Helping drug dependents

    Fr. Shay Cullen

    Fr. Shay Cullen

    Having worked for over 20 years helping drug dependents recover from abuse and addiction in a rehabilitation sanctuary for young people using chemical substances, I learned a few important things. First is that they are not criminals but in need of medical help and intervention. Drug abuse is a health issue. The most common answer given by the youth when asked why they began substance abuse is “To forget my problems.” But behind those answers, I learned about the causes and the nature of those problems they try to forget by substance use.

    Substance abuse is trying to change bad feelings with chemicals. Millions of adults and young people are using alcohol, a legal drug to “forget their problems.” We need to be compassionate and caring of the substance user, not take a punitive approach of condemnation and punishment.

    They are people suffering, hurting, and with a troubled life. So the use and abuse of chemical substances is a form of self-medication for some. The use of substances ought not to be a criminal offense but a medical health issue. Those who use chemical substances need and deserve treatment, care, and rehabilitation — not the death penalty.

    Most of these dependents suffer from emotional relationship problems — some are childhood problems that cause pain, that cannot be buried inside and “forgotten.” They will always be there until human compassion, help, understanding and therapy is found.

    The suppliers, dealers and traffickers of the illegal drugs are the people who deserve to be investigated and slapped legal action. They provide a quick, pain-killer “solution” for the youth, encouraging them to turn to chemicals to solve emotional and personal problems rather than seek human help, understanding, care and support.

    The most important thing that we have to understand is that substance abuse is not just about illegal drugs. It is also about legal prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco addiction — all of which can and do kill. There is nothing more painful or saddening than a cigarette smoker with lung cancer or someone dying of an overdose, as happens at concerts and parties.

    Some people abuse drugs for recreational purposes, as if the absorption of dangerous chemicals into the human body is not harmful but helpful and joyous. So the economic forces that are campaigning to make some drugs such as cannabis legal are promoting it as harmless, and playing down the dangerous health risk and ignoring that fact.

    One day, the adverse effect of drug use — like that of alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco — kicks in and kills people after years of use. Cannabis is a starter drug and many youth begin to experiment but they get hooked, and peer group pressure is overwhelming and is a more powerful influence than that of parents and family. They develop tolerance to a substance and in time the “high” they get becomes a “low” and they look for something stronger.

    The causes of youth turning to chemical remedies to “forget problems” can be a dysfunctional family, an alcoholic and abusive father, an uncaring mother, sexual abuse in childhood, the separation of parents, dropping out of school, the loss of dignity and status, abandonment, abuse in an orphanage, unbearable poverty and misery, the painful breakup of a boy-girl relationship, etc. The street youth and children usually use cheap chemical inhalers like industrial glue.

    For other young people, the problem is misunderstanding and arguments with unloving, busy, neglectful parents who do not give good example and don’t inspire and encourage their children. These are some of the reasons why young people suffer depression, causing them to leave home and finding a substitute “family” on the street or a peer group “gang.”

    What can be done to help these young people deal with the problems and not resort to chemicals to forget their problems or to get high to overcome depression? The first step is to find a caring and understanding adult who has experience in counseling and listening, who will enable them to bring out and express all their problems. Counseling and recovery centers are needed.

    The young, troubled youth need “a friendly trusting shoulder to cry on.” It is the holding in of their problems and having no one to listen with understanding that causes so much stress and anxiety for youth; for adults, too. This combination drives them to drugs, alcohol or other escapist addictions.

    In a therapy and recovery center, the youth can overcome drug dependence and find themselves and be empowered to have self-control and find a meaning to life. This can be accelerated and achieved through emotional release therapy, wherein the young person has the professional help to express everything openly and fully in a therapy room. Family reconciliation is the next most important step to a normal life. Whatever, the drug dependent can and must be helped and saved.


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    1. Dear Father Shay your compassion and care for the under privileged and those persons who are not cared for, and who are led into drug abuse, is reflected in this article. Agreed that there may be some drug users who do not fit into the categories you have mentioned. However more importantly the authorities should focus on helping these troubled youth and address the underlying causes, such as poverty, unemployment and under employment. Instead of indiscriminate killing of suspects, it is surely time that the President installs a top level Commission to examine the drug abuse problem and solve the problem holistically.

    2. As part of the small baranggay MOSTLY some of my neighbor hearsay that they are drug dependents/ in selling Shabu are mostly committing petty crimes (theft/holdup) in our community to sustain their addiction. Worst were committing heinous crimes-raping child, murdering own mother or father, butchering innocents when they are in the influence of drugs as they are not in the right state of mind mind. Before, I am afraid walking in our street without my father escorting me to tricycle station. Now, I feel safer as President Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs is very intensive and VERY EFFECTIVE for me. The PNP’s program of ‘OPLAN TOKAHANG’ is also a good way to determine who are the users and pushers. I came from poor family too and I understand how hard to have a decent meal for a day however selling drugs will not be an excuse to live life and escape from the problem. I am not comparing my self though, I can see that most FIlipinos who were into this illegal business are just being lazy and want earn an easy money.

      I support the PRDU30 and I am willing to help to develop Rehabilitation center in my small means for the surrender-er. #ISPOORTPISOPARASAREHAB