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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Drug addiction rampant in Koh Kong

Drug addiction rampant in Koh Kong

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

me off."

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."



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