Research into drug abuse and the sexual practices of Cambodia's street youth has
concluded the country is facing a rapidly expanding drugs problem that requires immediate
attention. The study was carried out by local NGO Mith Samlanh/Friends.
"[In the 1990s] there was only glue sniffing among young people, but in recent
months there has been an increase in drugs such as yaba [an amphetamine] and heroin,"
said Sébastien Marot, director of Friends.
The study, Drug Use and HIV Vulnerability, interviewed nearly 1,700 youths aged between
15 and 21 in Poipet, Battambang and Phnom Penh. It found that use of amphetamines
among street children tripled in the year to June 2001. Over the same period, the
number of young people injecting drugs increased from 0.6 percent to 4.3 percent.
The government acknowledged drug abuse is now a serious problem.
"There has been a 399 percent increase in drug use among children since 2000,"
said Lour Ramin, permanent deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for
Combating Drugs. "The NACD recognizes the increase in drug use and production.
We are concerned about the youth."
Although the Friends study concentrated on street children, the NGO found that young
children from middle class backgrounds were also vulnerable to addiction. Friends
said there were strong indications that drug abuse was not restricted to those on
the street, and some wealthier youth were regularly taking stronger doses of yaba.
The NGO said further investigation was necessary to determine the relationship between
HIV and drug use. Many youths reported sharing syringes, despite having some awareness
of the risks involved. Others said they ignored the risks of unprotected sex while
under the influence of drugs. Marot warned that drug abuse in neighboring countries
had caused higher rates of HIV.
"In Thailand and Vietnam the HIV rate stabilized, but then increased due to
drug use," he said.
Although Cambodia has not yet set up programs to combat drug abuse, the Minister
of Social Affairs, Labor and Vocational Training of Youth, Ith Samheng, said the
government recognized it needed to develop preventative measures.
Marot said government and NGOs needed to be more vigilant and examine the trends.
That would help provide better services for drug abusers.
"We need to inform, we need to train and we need to do it fast," said Marot,
"because the drugs aren't waiting for us."