Yama addiction in Koh Kong province is growing so quickly that officials fear
widespread social and economic breakdown.
For six years Ngean Hong (pictured with his wife) labored as a crab fisherman and depended on yama for the strength to work. "I had power like an elephant," he says. But the snowballing damage to his family that the drug was causing eventually persuaded him to quit.
In some areas, an estimated
three-quarters of fisherman rely on the drug to get through work, and use is
rapidly increasing in other parts of the population.
Hou Thy, villge
chief of Phum Pe in Pack Khlang commune, said that 70 to 80 percent of fishermen
in his village use the drug, and 50 percent of all the village's residents are
addicted to the amphetamine.
"Their bosses put yama in the water and
offer them [the fishermen] to drink. It affects the peoples' health and security
in the village. It causes a lot of robberies, and people are killing each
other," said Thy.
Yama has the short-term effects of creating feelings of
intense energy and suppressing sleep and hunger, which boosts productivity among
fishermen. The long-term effects, however, include violent or unpredictable
behavior, schizophrenia and psychosis.
There are no formal studies
documenting the use of yama among fishermen, but anecdotal evidence suggests the
drug has become alarmingly popular in Koh Kong.
"I used yama for six
years when I was a crab fisherman," said Ngean Hong, 39, of Phum Pe village.
"When I used yama, I had power like an elephant. But on days that I did not use
yama, I was tired like an ant. I smoked seven to eight tablets a
"There were 30 people in my crab fishing group [and] they all used
the drug," said Hong. "I bought it from the boat owner [and] if I did not use
the drug, the boat owner would not rent the boat to me and my group would kick
Behind the scenes of sunset tranquility in Koh Kong fishing villages hides a menace of drug addiction and deforestation.
"After I stopped using the drug, I had to change my career from
crab fisherman to carpenter," he said.
In Koh Kong, yama pills sell for
around 6,000 riel each, a price that can quickly consume the income of a
fisherman and his family.
Hong said the strain that his addiction placed
on his marriage and on the health of his family was too much to bear.
"When I used yama, my wife and my children had no rice to eat and had no
house to live in. Gradually, my family suffered more and more, so I decided to
stop using the drug," Hong said.
Hong is one of the fortunate few
fishermen who have kicked the habit, but ADHOC human rights activist Chhang
Cheang fears a widespread deterioration of the family unit throughout Koh Kong
if the drug use trend continues.
Cheang works directly with addicted
fishermen in Pack Khlang commune, a 10 minute boat ride from the provincial
capital of Koh Kong. He estimated that between 60 and 70 percent of the local
residents were using yama, mostly fishermen over the age of 15.
sociological effects of yama addiction can be severe, and the spiraling trend
among fishermen is not unique to Koh Kong.
"There is a direct link
between poverty and drug use," said Graham Shaw, programme officer at the United
Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
"People just above the
poverty line often think that they can take a drug and work more efficiently and
make more money, however, there is a knock-on effect, and as the addiction
worsens they will not be able to function as normal human beings," Shaw said.
"They become unable to work and generate income because of the cost of
the drug, and in the end, it impacts the family and community, causing them to
fall below the poverty line," he said.
Shaw said that Cambodian
provinces bordering Thailand have had the most chronic drug use and trafficking
problems because of their proximity to trade routes.
"People working in
the fishing industry in border areas are at even greater risk [of drug abuse]
because they have easy access to their contacts in Thailand," Shaw
In a report on drug use and trafficking released by the Center for
Social Development (CSD) in August 2004, the second deputy governor Chea Him
described Koh Kong as the province most effected by drug use.
victims are fishermen workers because they need to use the drug to be able to
endure the heavy work," Chea said.
Cheang believes the only hope for the
fishermen of Koh Kong lies in the hands of the government.
"If there is
no intervention from top provincial officials, everyone, including youngsters
and elders in the communes, will become addicted in the next few years. Village
and commune chiefs have never walked around and looked at the situation
firsthand," Cheang said.
Lim Shy, a 63-year-old resident who lives in
Phum Bei in Pack Klang, said that yama addiction extends beyond just fishermen.
"Right now, it is very difficult to survive, because my son goes fishing
just to buy more yama," Lim said. "Phum Bei is full of people using and selling
the drug. Not only fisherman use it, but also many other people in the village."
Thy said he had reported the yama crisis to the district chief, and that
the district chief had reported to the provincial governor.
On July 11, a
deputy governor of Koh Kong said authorities had arrested a man identified as
only Ngov, his wife, and his mother for the possession of 30 yama tablets.
"We just cracked down on the biggest drug seller last night in Pack
Klang," In Sokhom said. "Ngov had only 30 tablets last night due to the fact
that he is sick and cannot import more drugs to sell. Since June we have cracked
down on seven other drug dealers."