AUTHORITIES are planning to build the country’s first national drug rehabilitation centre with support from Vietnam, officials have confirmed, in another sign of deepening drug policy ties between the two nations.
The news comes amid controversy over a recently completed detoxification programme in which street drug users were dosed with a little-known Vietnamese herbal medication – a scheme that has drawn criticism from rights groups and concern from the UN.
The new treatment centre, planned for Preah Sihanouk province’s Stung Hav district, would fall under the watch of Cambodia’s anti-drugs bureau, the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD).
“Our future is to build a national drug centre,” NACD Secretary General Moek Dara said. “We will have trained doctors to treat addicted people and provide [drug users] with job training.”
The new centre could use the Vietnamese medication at the heart of the detoxification controversy, called Bong Sen, as part of its programme, Moek Dara said, adding that it would also provide vocational skills and follow-up support – key resources that are in short supply in the Kingdom today.
Claims of forced treatment
To date, Cambodia’s 14 drug treatment centres have been controlled by various authorities, ranging from municipal governments to provincial and military police.
But the country’s existing treatment centres have come under fire from rights groups – who call them detention centres – for a history of forced treatment, a dearth of addictions professionals and limited HIV-prevention education.
“The relapse rate in Cambodia after release from the centres is believed to be close to 100 percent,” a World Health Organisation assessment of compulsory treatment released this year stated.
A WHO official said he had concerns about the planned treatment centre.
“The UN position is quite clear,” said Graham Shaw, the WHO’s technical officer on drug use. “These compulsory treatment centres are not effective and are very costly. We do not support them.”
Twenty hectares of land for the centre will come from prominent businessman Senator Mong Reththy, who said the Vietnamese government will fund the project.
“I have land. Vietnam has money,” Mong Reththy said. “So we will give it to the government to build this national drug treatment centre.”
Mong Reththy said the Preah Sihanouk location would be ideal, providing job opportunities for drug users in nearby palm oil and acacia plantations and his privately owned Oknha Mong Port. Mong Reththy, through his company, the Mong Reththy Group, or its subsidiaries, is involved in all three sectors, with the port and acacia plantation operations in the same district as the planned treatment centre.
The plan also appears to be an extension of drug policy ties between Vietnam and Cambodia after last week’s trial of Vietnamese-produced Bong Sen on street drug users.
“Vietnam is prepared to meet any requests by Cambodia to help it prevent and combat drugs, including sending Vietnamese experts to Cambodia to build detoxification centres … and providing medical equipment and Vietnamese-produced medicine to help drug addicts kick … their habits,” a statement from the Vietnamese embassy declared following a September visit by Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong.
A statement on the Web site of Fataco Ban Tre, which manufactures Bong Sen, said company officials arrived with the Vietnamese delegation.
An accompanying photo shows Truong Vinh Trong and a company official meeting Cambodian officials, including NACD head Ke Kim Yan and Mong Reththy.
Mong Reththy told The Post he introduced Bong Sen to the Cambodian government.
“I am just a facilitator for both governments,” said Mong Reththy.
“There is no benefit to me because I have no share in the company that produces Bong Sen. I just want to help Cambodia reduce drug use.”
Mong Reththy said he wanted to build the centre “as soon as possible in 2010”, but the timeline is contingent on the Vietnamese government coming up with the US $2.7 million he said was needed for funding.