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Mental health services key for drug users: study

Mental health patients sit in a waiting room before their appointment to see a doctor at a hospital in Phnom Penh in 2007. AFP
Mental health patients sit in a waiting room before their appointment to see a doctor at a hospital in Phnom Penh in 2007. AFP

Mental health services key for drug users: study

A new report has called for greater mental health provisions to be made for Cambodia’s drug users, though it conceded that the human and financial resources to implement its proposals will likely be lacking.

Published last month in the International Journal of Drug Policy, the report is the product of interviews with 169 drug users in Phnom Penh. Researchers found that 15.3 per cent had attempted suicide and 42 per cent suffered what the report termed high levels of psychological distress.

Researchers concluded that, in an ideal world, drug users would be screened for mental health issues and referred to specialists for treatment.

However, they went on to acknowledge that, as with other low- and middle-income countries, Cambodia’s mental health services are already stretched beyond capacity. A 2014 survey by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health found Cambodia had only 41 registered psychiatrists.

The compromise the researchers propose is for health providers working in existing HIV and harm-reduction programs to be trained in mental health screening and prevention.

David Harding, who has spent more than a decade working with Cambodian drug users, said yesterday that mental health provisions should be a feature of any program tackling drug-related issues, although he was not aware of any such initiatives in the Kingdom.

Representatives of the Health Ministry and the National Authority for Combating Drugs were not reachable.

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