A RISE in methamphetamine use across the region has coincided with a dramatic jump in controversial compulsory treatment centres in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, according to a new report, which reiterates concerns about the treatment of drug users in the Kingdom, and slams UN agencies for what critics say is a failure to speak out strongly against the facilities.
The report, to be released this week by the Open Society Institute, suggests the rise in detention centres over the last decade has resulted from a hurried regional response to spreading meth use.
In Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, authorities have sought to address the meth problem by building “boot camp” style forced treatment centres, where drug users are often abused and the efficacy of treatment is questionable, the report states.
Authorities in Cambodia have built 14 such treatment centres over the past eight years, while eight have appeared in Laos over the last decade. The number of centres in Thailand has more than doubled, from 35 to 84, the report states.
“The fact that methamphetamine availability has skyrocketed has only added to the pressure to do something, but unfortunately, whoever is making the decisions has got it very wrong,” Nick Thomson, the report’s author, said in an emailed statement.
Rather than helping drug users, the authors of the report say that prison-like conditions at the treatment centres only exacerbate health problems.
“It is hard to argue that detained individuals are in fact treated like patients,” the report states.
“Placing methamphetamine users in compulsory detention is possibly the worst intervention imaginable, given their health-related risk profiles and needs.”
The report comes after the release in January of a Human Rights Watch report that focused solely on Cambodian detention centres, and alleged that those held at the institutions are subjected to violence and other rights abuses – claims that authorities have repeatedly denied.
PLACING METHAMPHETAMINE USERS IN ... DETENTION IS POSSIBLY THE WORST INTERVENTION IMAGINABLE.
Detainees interviewed in the OSI report told of similar violations.
“I saw three staff beat a guy unconscious,” one detainee was quoted as saying. “They then dragged him away to another room. They also beat me once, but they put a blanket over my head so I couldn’t see or defend myself.”
The OSI report concentrates on detained meth users. Meth users make up the vast majority of drug addicts in the Kingdom, as well as those detained in forced treatment centres. And the report highlights the researchers’ contention that health problems are often made worse by forced detention.
“The health-related problems faced by [drug users] are largely a result of the detention centre living conditions,” said Sara Bradford, a consultant who researched the Cambodia portion of the report. “Overcrowding, poor hygiene and contaminated food and water all contribute to this.”
In public statements, Cambodian authorities have vigorously denied claims of abuse at its treatment centres. Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at unnamed critics who he said “blindly” attacked the government’s work.
“Some human rights organisations, lacking in rational consideration, take the chance to blindly attack without seeing the government’s charity,” Hun Sen said during a narcotics conference.
Rights groups have targeted the international community and United Nations organisations, saying that they have not condemned the treatment centres strongly enough.
“I think the fact that the UN has presided over this period, which has been going on for 10 years, and has not really said anything until recently ... sends a message of apathy,” Thomson, the report’s author, said.
UN agencies in Cambodia have said they do not support the state-run compulsory treatment centres and are working with the government to build acceptable community-based alternatives.