Drug experts applaud Hun Sen's new description of drug addiction as a
treatable disease, but some say a rehab centre is not the best way
Photo by: AFP
Students display anti-drug posters at a rally Friday marking the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Phnom Penh.
THE announcement Friday of government plans to construct a new drug rehabilitation centre in Kampong Speu province has received a mixed reaction, with some observers questioning that such a centre would be able provide effective treatment.
During a speech marking the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced plans for the centre and emphasised the need to treat and rehabilitate drug users.
"I would like to appeal to all institutions to make contributions to the construction of a drug rehabilitation centre in Kampong Speu to help the victims of illegal drugs," he said at a rally at Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium.
After Hun Sen's speech, businessman Kith Meng handed over a donation of US$130,000 for the centre.
Anand Chaudhuri, the country head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, praised Hun Sen's speech for stressing the need to treat - not jail - drug users. He described it as "an immediate step forward" and a "milestone".
Hun Sen's speech was "a politically powerful statement that drug use and drug addiction affects users and families", Chaudhuri said, adding
that the premier did not talk at all about the criminalisation of drug use.
But Chaudhuri said that many drug centres in the Kingdom still use boot camp-style detoxification methods.
Chaudhuri said he hoped that, at the new centre, addiction would be regarded as a health issue and not as a crime.
"[Drug addiction] is a treatable illness and should be in the health domain," he said, adding that there should be informed consent at the new centre, and that forced detentions should be avoided because "incarceration will get you nowhere".
Hopefully the government will learn ... that a community-based approach is more cost-effective.
Graham Shaw, a technical officer at the World Health Organisation, said Hun Sen's statements focusing on the need to treat drug users marked a positive step, but that building another drug rehabilitation centre was not the answer.
"One of the concerns that we have at the WHO is that putting people into institutions is not very effective. Relapse rates are very high," he said.
Shaw said he does not consider the country's current centres for drug users rehabilitation centres at all because "there's no real drug treatment or rehabilitation services available". He said many centres are simply "dumping grounds for undesirables".
Shaw said the Kingdom should invest in community-based treatment rather than brick-and-mortar institutions.
"It is excellent that the prime minister says Cambodia needs to provide treatment and rehabilitation.... But as with many countries, it's a learning curve," he said. "Hopefully, the government will learn quite soon that a community-based approach is more cost-effective."
Despite his mixed opinion about Hun Sen's speech, Shaw said that Cambodia's drug treatment programmes were improving.