SOME drug users involved in a controversial detoxification programme have relapsed and started injecting illegal drugs again, a day after they were released from a clinical trial that authorities declared a success, officials said Tuesday.
The news comes amid continuing concerns over the programme, which authorities have pledged to expand, and its use of a little-known herbal medication called Bong Sen.
An official with the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) confirmed that “some” of the 21 drug users involved had relapsed after their Monday release.
Neak Yuthea, director of the NACD’s Legislation, Education and Rehabilitation Department, acknowledged that crucial rehabilitation and integration supports necessary for successful treatment programmes are still lacking in the Kingdom. But he blamed the relapses on the communities to which the drug users were returned, not on the efficacy of the medication.
“What we worried about is that they may relapse because we returned them to meet their friends in their home communities,” Neak Yuthea said.
Bong Sen “is a detoxification drug, so these people have only been detoxified”.
Neak Yuthea would not say how many people had relapsed, but he did say officials plan to check on drug users who had participated in the 10-day programme.
One man involved in the controversial programme said Tuesday that he started injecting heroin again the day after his release.
“I want to stop using drugs,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “But I’m around so many people using drugs. That’s why I started again.”
Others who were also released Monday said they believed Bong Sen was effective.
“After 10 days, I didn’t think of injecting drugs,” said another man, who said he had not gone back to using drugs.
David Harding, the international coordinator for drugs programmes with the group Friends International, said he was surprised to hear drug users had been returned to areas where they would be surrounded by other users.
“That is a very, very big pressure on a person that is newly clean,” he said. “To simply place people back in exactly the locations where they were previously shows an extraordinary faith” in Bong Sen.
Health professionals expect drug users to relapse multiple times on the road to recovery, said Graham Shaw, technical officer on drug use with the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose organisation has expressed “concern” over the trial and warned of a lack of crucial follow-up care.
“Usually in the assessment of a new drug, you would monitor a person’s condition for up to 12 months on a regular basis to see just how effective the medication is,” Shaw said. “Doing it for seven days would not constitute an assessment of a new drug.”