The government is considering building a $1-million drug rehabilitation center in Phnom Penh that could treat up to 300 addicts as early as next year, a government official said Wednesday.
The city’s municipal police force has been tasked with finding a location, and the government and donors will be asked to pay for the building, said Ngan Chamroeun, the deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs.
If built, it would be the first such treatment center in the country and represent a significant shift in the government’s view of drug addicts.
In recent years, more and more Cambodians are using cheap amphetamines like yama, and the government has started to react, as evidenced by Wednesday’s trilateral meeting on drug control cooperation between Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
“Before, we knew we only had a small number of addicts, that’s why we didn’t care about drug treatment,” Ngan Chamroeun said in an interview after the meeting. “But [amphetamine] use has become a big problem in Cambodia since the mid-1990s.”
He said treating drug addiction will help not only addicts but the entire country by reducing crime and improving living conditions.
“We know drug addicts are not criminals; they are victims,” Ngan Chamroeun said.
But, he said, the Phnom Penh center would be a mandatory center because he didn’t believe a voluntary system would work.
He said Cambodia will work with other countries to learn how they run their drug treatment programs and try to adapt them to this country.
Vietnam’s expertise will likely play a big role in the development of such programs in Cambodia, as both countries and Laos have agreed to share information and knowledge to control drug smuggling in all three countries.
The agreement was reached during Wednesday’s trilateral meeting, held at the Cambodiana Hotel. The countries also agreed to help each other tighten their borders and beef up security on the Mekong River, a major conduit for drug smugglers.
The three countries also invited the UN Office of Drugs and Crime to help them in their war on drugs.