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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Teen speed craze prompts crackdown

Teen speed craze prompts crackdown


SEVENTEEN-year-old Vanna is unnervingly serene as he carefully sculpts a pile of

white powder on the table in front of him into a fine straight line.

A young Phnompenhois snorts a line of amphetamine powder ... discos, nightclubs and karaoke parlors are distribution points for moneyed Phnom Penh youth


the deafeningly high-volume techno music rumbling across the floor of a popular

Cambodian dance hall in central Phnom Penh, Vanna produces a shortened straw and

to the accompaniment of nervous giggles from his four friends, snorts the line

into his right nostril and then shudders violently.

"We call it 'K',"

Vanna says of the methamphetamine of which he has now become a regular user.

"It's fun and it doesn't cost very much."

Vanna (not his real name) and

his friends are future casualties of a side of globalization that governments

prefer not to talk about: the availability of cheap, imported synthetic drugs

marketed to teen users with both the time and disposable income to devote to a

range of recreational drugs in the past confined to Cambodia's expatriate


While drug use in Cambodia has long been mostly confined to

glue-sniffing street kids and Hercules-guzzling cyclo drivers, the National

Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) says amphetamines, marijuana and opium are

now finding a market among increasing numbers of relatively affluent teenagers

in Phnom Penh.

Beginning this month, NACD plans an educational campaign

to sensitize Phnom Penh youth to the dangers of recreational drug


"We have no estimate regarding the actual numbers of adolescent drug

users in Phnom Penh, but the increasing amounts of drugs being confiscated

indicate there is a serious and escalating problem [with drug abuse among Phnom

Penh adolescents]," NACD Deputy Secretary General Khieu Sopheak told the


In the first nine months of 2000, NACD confiscateed 43,255

amphetamine pills (known on the street as "yama" or "yaba") compared with 23,032

pills confisctated during the same period in 1999.

According to Sopheak,

though large tracts of marijuana plantations have been destroyed over the past

year, synthetic drugs such as amphetamines and ectasy along with harder drugs

such as opium, heroin and morphine are being imported over the border from

Thailand and Laos to fill the gap between supply and demand of


"Cambodia lacks experience to combat drug abuse, so foreign

criminal gangs have taken advantage of the situation to make deals with local

criminal syndicates for importation," Sopheak said.

Discos, nightclubs

and karaoke parlors popular with moneyed Phnom Penh youth are now becoming focal

points of distribution for the drugs, Sopheak said.

"When the teenagers

[use] Yama or Yaba, they feel happy; they continue to buy more and more and they

encourage their friends to try using it," Sopheak said.

Like any good

consumer, Vanna has comparison-shopped the drugs available to him and his

friends in Phnom Penh, and decided that "K" offers the best bang for his


"For five dollars, five or six people can get stoned on 'K'," Vanna

explained. "If we wanted to drink beer and get drunk we would have to buy three

or four cases and spend a lot more money."

Although the Cambodian

Government has an international notoriety for a position on narcotics that

ranges from official lassitude to active involvement, there are signs that the

perceived threat to Cambodian youth is prompting serious consideration of the

problem in upper levels of the government.

During a meeting of the NACD

on December 4 at the Ministry of Interior, Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and

co-Minister of Interior, encouraged anti-drug police units to enhance

cooperation to combat drug trafficking.

During the meeting, Sar Kheng

conceded that the synthetic drugs posed a greater threat to Cambodia than

cannabis, which has been cultivated and used in Cambodia as both a medicinal

herb and a cooking ingredient for centuries, and was only outlawed in


"To take measures against the importation and the use of synthetic

drugs such as [amphetaminees] is more difficult than [taking action against] the

trafficking of organic drugs," he said. "Synthetic drugs threaten our society by

targeting teenagers, street kids, and prostitutes, which creates many criminal

problems in our society."



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