Duterte's use of painkiller sparks health concerns

Mr Duterte, seen here with a wounded soldier, has admitted to taking fentanyl due to a spinal injury from previous motorcycle accidents.
Mr Duterte, seen here with a wounded soldier, has admitted to taking fentanyl due to a spinal injury from previous motorcycle accidents.ST PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Lawmakers want Philippine President to clarify health status in a medical bulletin

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's admission that he used a powerful painkiller has prompted concern about his health, with lawmakers urging him yesterday to undergo a medical examination and disclose the results.

Mr Duterte last Monday revealed that he used to take fentanyl, often prescribed for cancer pain and other chronic ailments, because of a spinal injury from previous motorcycle accidents.

However, he said his doctor made him stop using it upon learning he was "abusing the drug" by using more than the prescribed patches.

The firebrand leader has attracted controversy over his war against suspected users of illegal drugs, which has claimed thousands of lives, and his incendiary language against the United States and the United Nations.

Lawmakers said Mr Duterte's remarks revived speculation about his health, including rumours during the election campaign that he suffered from cancer - a claim he repeatedly denied.

"To end this speculation, it would be better if his physician explains how the President manages the pain that he suffers," Duterte ally congressman Carlos Zarate told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Mr Zarate added that a medical bulletin would clarify the state of Mr Duterte's health, as fentanyl became controversial after pop legend Prince died of an accidental overdose of the drug in April.

Fentanyl, highly potent and addictive, is estimated to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

An outspoken Duterte critic, Senator Leila de Lima, supported Mr Zarate's call.

"It is not just the illness itself that we should be worried about, but also the impact or side effects that the medications he is taking may have, especially on his lucidity and ability to make decisions with a clear mind."

At 71, Mr Duterte is the oldest president of the Philippines. He has said he suffers from daily migraine and ailments including Buerger's disease, a cardiovascular illness characterised by inflammation of blood vessels usually due to smoking.

Mr Duterte cited ill health as the reason for skipping events during summits abroad. In Cambodia last week, he said he might not even finish his six-year term.

Another critic, Senator Antonio Trillanes, told AFP that Mr Duterte's admission that he took more than the prescribed fentanyl dosage showed he "qualified as a drug addict".

However, Mr Duterte on Saturday denied any addiction. "When there's regularity, my friend, when you take it and when there's a monkey on your back, that's addiction," he told a BBC reporter.

Doctors said fentanyl was regulated in the Philippines, with physicians needing a licence from the drug agency to prescribe it.

"The ones using (fentanyl) are usually people with harrowing pain or terminal diseases. Doctor monitoring manages risks of addiction," said Leo Olarte, former president of the Philippine Medical Association. "A medical bulletin is good so the public won't be rattled."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2016, with the headline 'Duterte's use of painkiller sparks health concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe