THE syringe distribution to drug addicts in a village in Cebu City, under the city's Harm Reduction program, sabotaged government's efforts to prevent drug use in the country, Senator Vicente Sotto III said on Monday.

In a privilege speech, Sotto said government in Barangay Kamagayan in Cebu City is authorized to provide needles and injectible instruments to drug addicts and dependents, "as if they are exempted from the operation of the country's criminal laws on drugs."

"These needles or syringes or injections, isn't these paraphernalia for injecting any dangerous drugs into the body illegal to be possessed all over the Philippines?" Sotto said.

According to Harm Reduction Coalition's website, harm reduction is a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.

It also provides that strategies like needle-exchange program will reduce negative consequences associated with drug use.

Sotto said needle exchange program reduces the likelihood of users of heroin and other drugs by "sharing the syringes and using them more than once."

On October 8, 2014, Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) Resolution 298, approving the proposed operations research on community-based comprehensive services for people who inject drugs (PWID) in Barangay Kamagayan in Cebu City, was implemented.

Under the resolution, the Department of Health (DOH) proposed a 24-month study to be implemented at the village, which is identified as "one of the key areas of widespread sharing of needles among PWIDs."

Sotto said the DDB resolution is "void and unenforceable," being in conflict with the express mandate of Section 12 of Republic Act 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

Sotto scored the provision of the resolution, considering Barangay Kamagayan a "safe zone," or there will be no arrests in relation to Section 12 of the law, only insofar as the needle or syringe exchange program is concerned, with respect to identified and registered PWID participants.

Section 12 of the law states that person who possesses any paraphernalia intended for smoking or injecting any dangerous drugs will be imprisoned from six months to four years and will have to pay a fine of P10,000 to P50,000.

"DDB has no power to make an exemption to the principle of territoriality by declaring Barangay Kamagayan Center as free zone or safe zone," Sotto said.

"No student of law, law enforcer or lawmaker would agree that a Board has the power to declare a certain area as safe zone or making criminals immune from arrest or prosecution," he added.

Further, Sotto said Harm Reduction program is a "pro-illegal" drugs strategy, as it is also becoming a venue to raise HIV or Aids.

"The Harm Reduction program is a program for HIV or Aids and bot for drug prevention or control. In fact, it even sabotages the government's campaign for drug prevention and eradication," said Sotto.

Reports from Cebu City HIV or Aids Registry showed that the primary cause of HIV transmission in the city has shifted from sexual transmission in 2008 to injecting drug use starting 2010.

Instead of implementing the Harm Reduction Strategy, Sotto said the government should focus in treating persons with HIV and in rehabilitating drug addicts.

The local government of Cebu City, as well as the Cebu City Anti-Drug Abuse Council, also opposed the implementation of the Harm Reduction program.

Cebu City had passed a resolution asking the Department of Health to reconsider its approach under the program distributing syringes to barangay where incidence of illegal drug use is high. (Sunnex)