SEVENTEEN-year-old Vanna is unnervingly serene as he carefully sculpts a pile of
white powder on the table in front of him into a fine straight line.
A young Phnompenhois snorts a line of amphetamine powder ... discos, nightclubs and karaoke parlors are distribution points for moneyed Phnom Penh youth
the deafeningly high-volume techno music rumbling across the floor of a popular
Cambodian dance hall in central Phnom Penh, Vanna produces a shortened straw and
to the accompaniment of nervous giggles from his four friends, snorts the line
into his right nostril and then shudders violently.
"We call it 'K',"
Vanna says of the methamphetamine of which he has now become a regular user.
"It's fun and it doesn't cost very much."
Vanna (not his real name) and
his friends are future casualties of a side of globalization that governments
prefer not to talk about: the availability of cheap, imported synthetic drugs
marketed to teen users with both the time and disposable income to devote to a
range of recreational drugs in the past confined to Cambodia's expatriate
While drug use in Cambodia has long been mostly confined to
glue-sniffing street kids and Hercules-guzzling cyclo drivers, the National
Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) says amphetamines, marijuana and opium are
now finding a market among increasing numbers of relatively affluent teenagers
in Phnom Penh.
Beginning this month, NACD plans an educational campaign
to sensitize Phnom Penh youth to the dangers of recreational drug
"We have no estimate regarding the actual numbers of adolescent drug
users in Phnom Penh, but the increasing amounts of drugs being confiscated
indicate there is a serious and escalating problem [with drug abuse among Phnom
Penh adolescents]," NACD Deputy Secretary General Khieu Sopheak told the
In the first nine months of 2000, NACD confiscateed 43,255
amphetamine pills (known on the street as "yama" or "yaba") compared with 23,032
pills confisctated during the same period in 1999.
According to Sopheak,
though large tracts of marijuana plantations have been destroyed over the past
year, synthetic drugs such as amphetamines and ectasy along with harder drugs
such as opium, heroin and morphine are being imported over the border from
Thailand and Laos to fill the gap between supply and demand of
"Cambodia lacks experience to combat drug abuse, so foreign
criminal gangs have taken advantage of the situation to make deals with local
criminal syndicates for importation," Sopheak said.
and karaoke parlors popular with moneyed Phnom Penh youth are now becoming focal
points of distribution for the drugs, Sopheak said.
"When the teenagers
[use] Yama or Yaba, they feel happy; they continue to buy more and more and they
encourage their friends to try using it," Sopheak said.
Like any good
consumer, Vanna has comparison-shopped the drugs available to him and his
friends in Phnom Penh, and decided that "K" offers the best bang for his
"For five dollars, five or six people can get stoned on 'K'," Vanna
explained. "If we wanted to drink beer and get drunk we would have to buy three
or four cases and spend a lot more money."
Although the Cambodian
Government has an international notoriety for a position on narcotics that
ranges from official lassitude to active involvement, there are signs that the
perceived threat to Cambodian youth is prompting serious consideration of the
problem in upper levels of the government.
During a meeting of the NACD
on December 4 at the Ministry of Interior, Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and
co-Minister of Interior, encouraged anti-drug police units to enhance
cooperation to combat drug trafficking.
During the meeting, Sar Kheng
conceded that the synthetic drugs posed a greater threat to Cambodia than
cannabis, which has been cultivated and used in Cambodia as both a medicinal
herb and a cooking ingredient for centuries, and was only outlawed in
"To take measures against the importation and the use of synthetic
drugs such as [amphetaminees] is more difficult than [taking action against] the
trafficking of organic drugs," he said. "Synthetic drugs threaten our society by
targeting teenagers, street kids, and prostitutes, which creates many criminal
problems in our society."