The government marked World Drug Day on Sunday by setting fire to almost 1.5 tons of confiscated drugs in a schoolyard in Phnom Penh. Officials conceded that efforts to curb usage were failing, pointing to a lack of public knowledge and participation.
Seang Sok, a deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said the pyre was comprised of drugs confiscated in three police raids last year and included 67 kg of methamphetamine, 345 grams of heroin, 1,495 kg of marijuana and 1.5 kg of marijuana oil.
Speaking to about 600 people assembled at Beong Trabek High School in Chamkar Mon district, Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said more needed to be done to ensure drug users received appropriate treatment.
“Our weak point is that we have already have hospitals, but we don’t have people going for treatment,” he said, noting that some had no idea about the 170 drug treatment facilities located around the country.
“If we don’t treat [people], we cannot solve the drug problem,” he said. “Within the last few years, drug problems in the region, and in our country, have become more widespread and complicated.”
Mr. Kim Yan said that while Cambodia was not itself a drug-producing country, its proximity to the Golden Triangle meant it was being used for trafficking, storing and processing drugs for export, as well as domestic use.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, reading a speech prepared for Prime Minister Hun Sen, said that police were involved in 3,061 drug-related cases in 2015, an almost 130 percent increase over 2014, but that more needed to be done to cut off access to drugs.
“Even though we have cracked down a lot on drug cases, usage seems to be spreading to some rural areas,” he said. “While it is the government’s duty to combat drugs, if there is no participation from people and communities, the work will not be a success.”
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) has long said that Cambodia’s response to drug use is outdated—recommending that compulsory treatment centers be replaced by a community-based approach to addiction—but reform has been slow.
On Thursday, the UNODC released their latest annual World Drug Report. It describes the “large and growing market” for methamphetamine—in both its tablet and crystal forms—all across Asia, calling it a “primary drug of concern” in Cambodia.