AUTHORITIES must end a controversial detoxification experiment on street drug users, a prominent international rights organisation said Sunday.
The demand came in advance of a meeting scheduled for today during which officials with the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) plan to discuss the week-old drug trial conducted on at least 21 drug users plucked from the streets of Phnom Penh.
Rights advocates, including the group Human Rights Watch, have slammed the trial involving a little-known herbal drug as an outrage. NACD officials, however, insist that the drug users volunteered for the trial, and that the drug, called Bong Sen, has been proved effective in its native Vietnam.
“This is a poor imitation of a scientific experiment,” Rebecca Schleifer, Human Rights Watch’s health and human rights advocacy director, said in a statement.
“Instead of arbitrary detention or an unknown cocktail of herbs, Cambodia should be promoting voluntary, medically appropriate treatment options for those who are dependent on drugs.”
Schleifer said Cambodia should instead pursue options with proven track records, citing methadone, the synthetic opiate replacement, a trial of which has been long delayed in the Kingdom.
NACD officials were unavailable for comment Sunday, but NACD Secretary General Moek Dara defended the trial last week, contrasting Bong Sen with methadone.
“Methadone is a kind of medication to treat heroin users to stop using heroin, but it doesn’t cure them completely because they are still taking methadone,” Moek Dara said. “However, Bong Sen medication can cure drug users.”
UN offers help
Also today, UN officials are expected to send a letter to the NACD offering help to explore “evidence-informed, community-based treatment options”.
“Basically what the UN is saying is it’s clear that the use of any drugs should be subject to the ethical protocols for the introduction of any treatment regiment or drug in the country,” said Tony Lisle, the acting resident coordinator for the UN in Cambodia.
Lisle said UN officials have asked to visit the Orkas Khnom, or My Chance, drug treatment centre where the trial is being conducted, but no official visit has been scheduled.