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Understanding addiction requires frank discussion

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Parents visit their child undergoing treatment for drug addiction at the DTA rehab centre in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district in 2021. Heng Chivoan

Understanding addiction requires frank discussion

Heng Seiha is a young man, but his health belies his young age. Two years of heavy drug usage have taken their toll of his health.

As a drug addict, he sold whatever property he could take from his parents to get money to buy drugs – and vandalised what he could not sell. Unable to control their son, his parents sent him to the DTA Rehab Centre in Thmey Village, Kork Khleang commune, Sen Sok district in Phnom Penh, for treatment.

Seiha, 30, said he initially started using drugs because he wanted to know what they felt like. A combination of lie and peer pressure by his so-called friends was what initially motivated him to try them.

He was afraid of becoming unpopular with his friends if he said no to their entreaties, and so he became a light user. Later, as his addiction took hold, he no longer needed the encouragement of his friends. Soon, he was scrambling to find cash to keep up his habit.

When he ran out of his own money, he began stealing from his parent’s home, and pawning off or selling precious family possessions.

“When you are addicted, you feel desperate and physically uncomfortable if you do not have the drugs you think you need. As you get some, you feel immediate relief. Drugs are very addictive, and giving them up is far harder than most people know,” said Seiha.

“I want to send the message to all young people that they should stay away from drugs as they destroy your future and your wealth. I also want to thank the DTA Rehab Centre for treating me,” he added.

Seiha said he was riding his motorcycle while under the influence of drugs, when he hallucinated that there was a car directly in front of him. He swerved to avoid the imaginary car and hit a bridge. His parents took him to hospital for treatment for his injuries, and as soon as he was recovered from the accident, enrolled him at the rehab centre.

He has spent five months in the centre, and believes he has recovered.

The center has various programmes to neutralise the drugs in the body, such as playing sports and studying the Dharma. A team of medical professionals monitor the health of the patients closely.

“Since staying at the rehab centre, not only do I feel free from the grasp of drugs, but I was cured of a nasal allergy which pre-dated my drug problem,” added Seila.

Providing hope for 14 years

Hang Praseur, deputy director of DTA Rehab Centre, told The Post that the centre has been open for nearly 15 years and treated almost 10,000 patients. Currently, there are more than 200 male and female addicts living at the centre.

When a patient is first admitted, a doctor diagnoses their symptoms, takes their blood pressure and runs blood tests. When the doctor finds any symptoms, he treats them.

He said that often a new patient’s general health is poor, so the staff will give them vitamin supplements. Often new patients are suffering from a lack of the drugs they think they need, and their absence can cause hallucinations and sickness. In these cases, the patients may need to be sedated. In addition, we need to ensure that they get enough natural deep sleep and eat nutritious food to nourish their health.

He added that after one to two weeks, they require that their patients exercise, as regular exercise is crucial to good physical and mental health. These will all combine to bringing an addict’s mind back to normal, at which point the centre offers courses in English and other skills.

The duration of treatment depends on the individual’s drug use. If a person was a serious user, then treatment could be required for many months.

Praseur said that many addicts have severe emotional problems or mental health issues, but this was no longer a problem for his experienced staff, as they had seen it all before and knew how to deal with any problems that came up.

All of the centre’s doctors were specifically trained by the National Authority for Combating Drugs and have many years of experience, he said.

“What is concerning is how much more serious the condition of addicts has become in the last year or two. I believe that one reason that drugs are not as pure as they used to be, so the users are more affected, mentally. Many of our patients are daydreaming, talking nonsensically or even speaking to themselves,” he said.

A neurologist’s opinion

According to Praseur, the charges at DTA are $700 for 3 months, over $1,000 for 6 months and over $2,000 for a full year. He says these prices are reasonable, as they include accommodation and meals, as well as medical attention and educational programmes.

Sam Phallyka, a neurologist at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, explained to The Post that drug use is very harmful to the nervous system.

She said side effects vary with each type of drug, whether methamphetamine, morphine, or ecstasy. In general, these drugs affect blood pressure, respiration rate, heart rate, and body temperature.

She explained that when a person uses drugs, their nervous system is damaged. They can experience memory loss or be irritable and have sudden mood swings.

In the case of a person who uses drugs regularly, their tolerance may grow, meaning they will need more drugs to achieve the sensation they are searching for.

“The higher the dose and the longer the duration of use, the more a patient is affected. Eventually, as addict will not believe that the option of simply not taking drugs is an option. They will do whatever it takes to get their hands on more drugs,” she said.

She explained treating the symptoms that appear is important, but the most important thing is to stop taking drugs. Quitting drugs is a very difficult thing to do and addicts need to be highly committed and have the support of the people around them.

Toch Channy, spokesman for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, told The Post that there are currently 13 national drug treatment centres in Cambodia, six of which are owned by the state, in Phnom Penh and in the provinces.

He said that in the past five years, 55,307 victims of drugs had been admitted to the centres and 35,223 male and female former addicts had been reunited with their families and communities after recovery.

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