A senior Ministry of Interior official has voiced concern over the rising amount of drugs seized by police each year, noting that large-scale processing and production operations appear to be increasing despite the introduction of several new anti-drug mechanisms.

Kao Khon Dara, head of the ministry’s Anti-Drug Committee, said at an August 23 meeting that while the Covid-19 pandemic was causing difficulties to public health and the economy, there was also a worrying growth in the crimes of producing, circulating, trafficking and using drugs in the region and beyond.

He said authorities had noted a dramatic rise in such cases in the past few years.

“The amount of drugs seized increase each year. Our police forces are discovering more large-scale drug production facilities than ever before. Methamphetamine, known as ice, is the most seized drug now … We fear that the drugs being seized are stronger than they used to be, which poses more dangers to users,” he said.

Khon Dara said that before 2015, Cambodia suffered the least impact from illegal drugs of any nation in the region. Based on law enforcement statistics and the demand for treatment and rehabilitation centres, it is now as afflicted as its neighbours.

“If this growth continues, Cambodia may even overtake the negative statistics of some other ASEAN members,” he added.

He said police had done excellent work shutting down large-scale manufacturing and trafficking operations, but the large number of small-scale distribution and drug use case across the country remained a concern. Further action is warranted, he said.

The drug issue is complex, he said, noting Cambodia had formerly been drug-free but that this has changed gradually. At first it appeared that smugglers used the Kingdom as transit point for trafficking operations. This led to an increase in the availability of drugs and a rise in their use. But eventually, manufacturing facilities were established here.

“Drug imports continue to rise. Drug use continues to spread in local communities and rural areas,” he said.

He said the number of users who fail to seek medical treatment remains a problem in many areas and is a concern for families and communities. More and more local people are voicing concern about drug use in their communities, he added.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, agreed that the drug problem remained a concern and appeared to be growing, despite the laws in place.

“We know that the government’s safe village-commune policy has not had the impact we hoped it would have on drug use. These problems are no longer limited to Phnom Penh, they have spread throughout the Kingdom,” he said.

He urged more effective law enforcement and better public education.

Nak Yuthea, head of the secretariat of the anti-drug committee, said Cambodia’s geographical location near the “golden triangle” – an area on the borders with Thailand and Laos and formerly one of the world’s largest drug-producing hubs – made it very difficult to escape an influx of narcotics.

He said the fact that the golden triangle appeared to have turned from the production of opium or natural drugs to that of synthetic drugs was concerning.

“Cambodia suffered as it increasingly became a point of transit. Now, these gangs are attempting use it as a production hub,” he said.

The committee urged all relevant state institutions to play their part in curbing the nation’s drug problems.