Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has unleashed a bloody war on drugs since taking office, is backpedalling after admitting that he once abused fentanyl, a powerful prescription opioid.
“Fools, I just made up that story and you believed it,” Duterte said on Saturday, according to the Agence France-Presse.
The president admitted last week that he had been prescribed fentanyl to alleviate pain from spinal injuries incurred during a motorcycle accident. Duterte said his doctor told him to stop using fentanyl because he was “abusing the drug” and exceeding the recommended dosage, according to a report by the Philippine Star.
Duterte does, however, still uses the drug to treat migraines and pain in his spine, but insists that he is not addicted. “I’m not an addict,” he told the BBC. “Only when it is prescribed. Addiction is only with regularity, my friend.”
Fentanyl, a schedule II prescription drug in the United States, is a synthetic opioid estimated to be between 50 and 100 stronger than morphine, prescribed to treat chronic pain symptoms associated cancer or other severe ailments. Opioids overall were linked to 33,000 fatal overdoses across the United States in 2015.
The news starkly contrasted with the zero-tolerance approach that Duterte has taken towards drug abuse in the Philippines. Al-Jazeera recently estimated that nearly 6,000 people have been killed since Duterte took office in June. In a speech he delivered on the day he took office, Duterte encouraged civilians to participate in extra-judicial killings of drug addicts and dealers. “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself,” he told a crowd at a slum in Manila on June 30.
Even though Duterte is backtracking, the admission to using fentanyl has reignited calls among his critics to be more transparent about his health. At 71-years-old, Duterte is the oldest president that the Philippines has ever had.