One of five foreigners arrested in Sihanoukville on Christmas Eve for drug production, trafficking and possession, died in custody on Friday afternoon.
US citizen Michael Grafman, 52, was brought to the Sihanoukville Referral Hospital on Thursday, where he died of “drug abuse and chronic renal failure” the next day, according to his death certificate.
Doctor Sim Pheakdey said that “when he was transferred in, he was conscious, but disoriented ... We tried to help, but his condition was too serious.”
Pin Sokhom of Friends International’s Mith Samlanh program, which sometimes works with addicts, pointed out that inmates could suffer withdrawal symptoms if they were addicted to drugs and not given sufficient health care.
This was echoed via email by Choub Sok Chamroeun, executive director of NGO Khana, who doubted that prisons were sufficiently equipped to deal with those health risks.
He added that it could be life threatening if a drug user’s health history was unknown to prison staff – something that needed to be changed, he said, for health care providers to be able to respond quickly in case of emergency.
Medical care should include, for example, “daily dosing for methadone maintenance therapy (MMT)” in place of heroin injections.
He added that the government needed to take this issue into account in its current drug crackdown initiative. “I have no objection to the Anti-Drug Campaign of the government, but in the meantime, the right to health care of those addicts need [sic] to be ... provided [for] ... through international best practices,” he said.
“Using the legal measures will not help the drug addicts to stay abstinence [sic] or giving up the use of it,” he added.
After the arrests, Grafman was charged with drug production and trafficking, while three others were charged only with trafficking, according to local anti-drug department police official Sun Sophat.
Czech media reported that charges of trafficking against a Czech national had been dropped to possession. The last person arrested in the group, a Finnish national, was released after questioning by the court and blood tests came back negative.
Attempts to reach provincial police and the US Embassy by phone yesterday were unsuccessful. Sam Sophal, chief of the Sihanoukville prison, declined to comment.