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Challenges lie ahead warns drug chief despite successes

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A man takes methadone at a clinic in Phnom Penh in 2014. Pha Lina

Challenges lie ahead warns drug chief despite successes

A high-ranking official at the Authority for Combating Drugs on Monday said that despite improvements in tackling the drug problem, with cases “largely” down, the system faced challenges, with rehabilitation centres hitting capacity and “the criminal developing faster than the authorities”.

General Meas Virith, the secretary-general of the drugs body, told The Post on Monday that the number of drug users caught in crackdowns had decreased due to participation from all parts of society, with support from the public and cooperation of the authorities.

“We have worked hard to decrease the number of drug users [by encouraging them] to get voluntary treatment and by educating people, especially parents to take more care of their children by sending them for treatment and not to be ashamed and hiding them away."

“In the past, there were [an average of] 24 cases per day, which is now down to 22. Previously, [we] arrested around 54 people a day, and this has fallen to some 40, so cases have largely decreased. [But] now [treatment] has increased with around 6,000 addicts [at rehabilitation centres].”

In an interview with Fresh News TV on Monday, General Virith said over the first 249 days of the year, there had been 5,200 drug cases in total, involving 10,519 users.

Of the 5,200 cases, 3,399 involved the trafficking and possession of drugs, which resulted in 6,165 arrests. There were 1,896 cases of drug use involving 4,354 users.

He said while there was overcrowding at some rehabilitation centres, the government is working hard to build a national drug rehabilitation centre in Preah Sihanouk province’s Stung Hav district.

It will cater for around 2,000 people and provide comprehensive services. Estimated to cost around $6 million, the facility is still under construction, and once ready, it will help streamline drug addiction treatment and remove the need for temporary centres.

“What is challenging in [tackling the drug problem] in Cambodia is that [a lot of the users] are job-seeking migrants to cities and are lured by drug traffickers into becoming users.

“Later, they turn to crime and cause disruption to others, especially to security and public order. And this we are taking care of,” he told Fresh News.

“[But] the capacity to enforce the law by police officers is still limited while the criminal is developing faster than the authorities.”

A Phnom Penh police officer who asked not to be named highlighted certain corrupt practices that some police personnel use when arresting drug users. For example, some made a false report accusing them of trafficking in order to extort money.

“Some police officers, when they arrest drug users, accuse them of trafficking in order to get money from them or their relatives. And if they don’t get it, they will send them to court. Some officers conspire with drug traffickers as they get kickbacks from them,” he said.

A senior officer at an NGO that provides treatment for drug users, who also asked not to be named, said drug kingpins are rarely arrested. The authorities focus on drug users, resulting in drug addiction treatment potentially facing a crisis as a result.

“When a centre has to treat many more drug users than it was designed for, the quality of the treatment will be less effective, putting their health at risk. This is not treatment. When we take drug users to be treated like this, it is meaningless,” he said.

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