THE death of three persons in a drug rehabilitation house last week raised the need for a closer study of programs to treat drug dependents outside of hospitals and government centers.

The gruesome deaths of Thomas Woodruff, 24, from Argao, Cebu, Ervyn Ian Enilo, 28, from Barangay Punta Princesa, Cebu City, and their alleged assailant Archie Abastillas, 28, last Thursday pointed to something that went terribly wrong.

They were all reportedly recovering drug addicts who, at the stage of their rehabilitation, thought it best to stay together in a private house than have themselves confined in a hospital or government center.

The Department of Health (DOH) is mandated to regulate drug rehabilitation centers while the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) establishes policies and programs for the prevention of drugs throughout the country. The DDB said there are 45 residential treatment and rehabilitation centers in the Philippines, with 18 government-funded and 27 privately-owned.

The DDB is pushing for a community-based approach to the treatment and rehabilitation of drug dependents, especially when the level of the person’s drug dependence does not demand stringent physical restrictions.

The drugs board told the House of Representatives committee on dangerous drugs in a 2016 inquiry that only 0.6 percent to one percent of those who surrendered would require in-patient care. The other 99 percent would only need a “structured” community-based program, a Rappler report on the DDB presentation said.

Abastillas, tagged by a survivor as the killer, was said to have received treatment at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center for anxiety and depression brought about by his drug addiction. His last visit to the hospital’s Center for Behavioral Sciences was in 2016. He probably saw home-based treatment with drug addiction counselor Enilo as a better alternative.

Abastillas hacked Enilo and fellow recovering drug user Woodruff inside a rented apartment in Sitio Uldog, Barangay Cansojong last Thursday dawn, before he took his own life.

Enilo and his recovering drug users may have had the best intentions to continue treatment outside of an institution, but police reports following the killings showed the operations did not have permission or accreditation from the DOH.

The killings showed how important it is to regulate private-run centers to ensure procedures are followed, consultation standards met, and security requirements – guards and cameras - are installed.

The house set up by Enilo is the not only one in Cebu. Similar home-based rehabilitation operations have cropped up, and perhaps have become lucrative, in the wake of drug addicts voluntarily seeking help as a result of government’s intensified campaign.

The DOH needs to review house-based or community-based rehabilitation and study ways to strengthen it as an alternative to in-patient treatment.