HOOKED ON DRUGS
Cebu City officials are now tracing what caused the alarming number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases inside the Cebu City Jail, even as they are inclined to believe that needle-sharing among users of nubain, a restricted injectable pain killer known to be abused by drug users, is one of the reasons.
Of the 4,198 inmates of Cebu City Jail, there were 136 who were found to be positive of HIV, Cebu City Councilor David Tumulak disclosed.
While HIV is more known as a sexually transmittable disease, Tumulak strongly pursued the possibility that needles shared by nubain users at the male dormitory of the city jail caused the spread of the virus.
Cebu City Councilor James Anthony Cuenco also believed that needle sharing is the only logical explanation why the cases of HIV in the facility reach to over a hundred.
A number of the affected inmates were believed to have acquired the disease before they entered the jail facility, according to Tumulak.
But jail officials suspected that some of these inmates acquired HIV inside the jail because of nubain use.
“There is possibility kaning syringes. But during sa atong greyhound (last month), wa may nakita nga syringes. Among suspetsa gisunog ang syringe, giputol ang needle ug ilahang gilubong sa yuta,” Tumulak said.
(There is a possibility that they are using syringes. But during the greyhound last month, we weren’t able to confiscate syringes. We suspected that they burned the syringes, pulled out the needles and buried them.)
Of the 136 inmates who were positive of HIV, 88 are now taking medication, 48 are scheduled for follow up tests and three have refused to be treated, records of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) showed.
“Eighty-eight maybe positive na daan before they enter the jail facility, that is why they undergo medication na. How about kadtong 48 for follow up pa? So there is a possibility nga sa sulod na nakuha. That’s the only logical explanation,” Cuenco said.
(The 88 were most likely already positive of HIV before they entered the facility, that is why they already undergo medication. How about those 48 that are still for follow up? So there is a possibility that they acquired the disease inside the jail. That’s the only logical explanation.)
Tumulak, who is also Cebu City’s deputy mayor for police matters, said they always suspected that nubain addiction still exists inside the city jail and the high incidents of HIV-infected prisoners only heightened their suspicion.
Tumulak believed that nubain ampules were still being sneaked inside the jail undetected since there are only three city jail officers frisking around 600 to 800 family members of prisoners who come during the weekly visitation periods.
“Secondly, during greyhound operations, our jail guards and even PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) could attest to this, find it difficult to thoroughly check on the cells because inmates warn them that some HIV patients and TB (pulmonary tuberculosis) patients purposely spill their blood on portions of the cell to ward off inspectors who naturally got scared that they might contract HIV or TB,” Tumulak said.
With this, there is a possibility that there are contraband like nubain and syringes that remain undetected, he said.
Tumulak also disclosed that he received reports that there are habal-habal or motorcycle-for-hire drivers who help in slipping in contraband.
He said the information came from well-meaning residents who live close to the city jail who have gone to his office to report about it.
“Kani kunong mga habal-habal drivers moitsa kuno ni sila mga contraband isulod og styrofoam. Ari sa luyo sa city jail. Reliable ni atong source kay sila mani nagpuyo duol sa city jail,” Tumulak said.
(There are some habal-habal drivers who threw over the jail’s back wall the contraband sealed inside styrofoam. Our sources are reliable since they living near the city jail.)
Tumulak said that according to the source, these drivers would deliver a variety of prohibited items through this method, including cigarette and drugs, including nubain.
Dr. Alice Utlang, head of the Cebu City Office for Substance Abuse Prevention (Cosap), said that other than sexual intercourse, the mode of transmission of HIV is also through blood.
“HIV can only be transmitted if there is an opening or wound. An example of this is needle sharing,” Utlang said.
Utlang told Cebu Daily News that while she does not have the exact number, the number of nubain users in the city is still high.
She said that it’s a fact that having sexual intercourse with the same sex is the number one cause of the prevalence of HIV cases in the country.
“But diri sa Cebu City kay due to injecting drug users. But dili ko kahibalo og mao ba usab ang rason nga nitaas sulod sa prisohan,” Utlang said.
(But in Cebu City it’s due to injecting drug users. But I don’t know if that is the reason behind the increase of HIV positive cases inside the jail.)
Last February, a 45-year-old woman, Mary Ann Labita, was arrested after she tried to slip 19 ampules of nubain inside the city jail by hiding them inside the bread variety called “Francis.”
Labita claimed she did not know about the nubain and she was only told to bring it inside the facility by an inmate.
In last year’s Greyhound operation, several kilos of shabu, P4.7 million in cash, nubain and other prohibited items were also seized in a joint police and military operation.
To address the health and drug issues in the city jail, Tumulak said they will have a meeting on Friday together with the Department of Health in Central Visayas (DOH-7), Philippine National Police (PNP), Cebu City Health Department, barangay officials of Kalunasan where the city jail is situated, and Councilor Mary Ann delos Santos, the deputy mayor for health services.
Tumulak said they will tap the help of barangay tanods to monitor the visitors during Monday, Wednesday and Friday visitation days.
“Tanods will help in frisking visitors by means of a stick. And we will ask the help of PNP for police visibility,” Tumulak added.
Delos Santos, in a separate interview, said she will assign a doctor to conduct a weekly visit to the jail to check on the health of the inmates.
She said they will also allocate additional medicines and assign an ambulance at the jail.
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