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‘Alternative’ approach for drug addicts: gov’t

A man consumes methadone at a clinic in Phnom Penh in March
A man consumes methadone at a clinic in Phnom Penh in March. The Ministry of Health has devised a new plan to tackle the poor conditions of drug-rehabilitation clinics. Pha Lina

‘Alternative’ approach for drug addicts: gov’t

After facing heavy criticism for the conditions inside its drug-rehabilitation centres, the Ministry of Health has said it will begin offering an alternative community-based approach at health centres nationwide by 2015.

Multiple reports have condemned torture and other abuses in the Kingdom’s eight rehabilitation centres, with the latest from Human Rights Watch in 2013 slamming them as “a means to lock away drug users and those suspected of drug use with considerably less effort and costs than would be incurred by prosecuting people in the justice system and … in prisons.”

According to Chhum Vanarith, a secretary of state in the Health Ministry, the alternative approach has already been piloted at 21 health centres in the capital and Banteay Meanchey.

“People always criticise that the treatment in the [rehabilitation] centres is breaking human rights and involves illegal detention, so we plan to provide services directly to health centres in each community,” he said at a conference in Phnom Penh yesterday.

Ministry officials said that needle exchanges will also be included in the project.

However, the rehab centres will remain in operation.

“We think as an organisation that these centres should be closed down,” said David Harding, technical adviser at Friends International. “[But] it’s a positive step, the fact there’s a move to actually develop an alternative to putting people in compulsory detention centres.”

Due to a lack of current capacity to run treatment schemes out of health centres, the ministry is reaching out to NGOs for assistance, Harding said.

Police officials at the conference said that harm reduction has long been a policy objective.

Neak Youthea of the National Authority for Combating Drugs said that police only jail drug traffickers, while addicts are sent to rehabilitation centres.

But Harding was sceptical, citing the smuggling of drugs to the incarcerated.

“Certainly, there’s a market for drugs [in prisons].”

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