Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature War on Drugs

Five thousand dead and counting: the Philippines’ bloody war on drugs

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 28 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6177
  1. Sophie Cousins, journalist
  1. Liverpool
  1. sophcousins{at}

As many as 5000 people may have been killed since June in the Philippine president’s mission to eradicate drug use. Sophie Cousins recently spoke to the country’s health minister about this brutal approach

After being elected president of the Philippines in June this year, Rodrigo Duterte embarked on a violent campaign to end illicit drug use in the country. He offered bounties for the bodies of drug dealers and promised to protect police from prosecution for the killings.

Some 5000 people have been killed in police operations or by suspected vigilantes since Duterte promised “to fatten the fish in Manila Bay with the bodies of 100 000 criminals.”1

But the Philippines’ health minister, Paulyn Rosell-Ubial, told The BMJ in a recent interview that the aim of completely eliminating drug use from the Philippines is unrealistic. “That’s the goal, but I think it’s an impossible goal. It’s really to make drug use something that’s unacceptable [and] totally disliked by Philippine society,” she said.

“It is a social movement, to say: drugs are not acceptable. At the moment everyone is using drugs. There’s no outcry, it’s completely accepted behaviour. I think we should change this culture of drug use in the country.” But she would not comment on the …

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