Officials on Thursday further outlined the government’s anti-drug campaign to be rolled out on January 1, saying it would include stepped-up law enforcement, rehabilitation, anti-trafficking and education.
Ke Kimyan, director of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said during a meeting at the National Institute of Education that drug traffickers’ use of Cambodia as a transit route had led to an expanded domestic drug market.
“Our citizens and youth migrated to work in Phnom Penh and they migrated to work abroad and they were tricked into using drugs,” Mr. Kimyan said. “They were told that it is energy medicine or happy medicine.”
The number of identified drug users in Cambodia this year—about 18,500—is an increase of nearly 30 percent on last year, according to a statement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week.
While increased arrests alone would not end drug use or trafficking, Mr. Kimyan said some drug offenders needed to be rounded up and the government needed more institutions to house them.
“If we focus on arresting, it will not solve the drug problem. Now, when we arrest, we have no place to put them, in either prisons or rehabilitation centers,” Mr. Kimyan said. “We need to collect about 6,000 people in this campaign because Phnom Penh alone has almost 3,000 people” using drugs.
“For drug users, some people just used drugs a little, so they would just be tested…and they would be sent for rehabilitation treatment. For detention centers, there is not enough room for them,” Mr. Kimyan said.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the government planned to use Correctional Center 4 in Pursat province to house drug offenders separately from non-drug-using prisoners. On Wednesday, he had called for the construction of a prison specifically to house drug offenders in an effort to prevent the use of illicit drugs from spreading among inmates.
“If we do not move addict prisoners who are staying with non-addict prisoners, they will all become addicts together,” he said Wednesday.
Sem Sithat, drug project manager at the NGO Friends-International, which provides voluntary drug rehabilitation services, said on Thursday that ramped-up law enforcement could make it harder for service providers to reach drug users.
Police crackdowns would likely make drug users more mobile—and more likely to hide. “I think it will be unmanageable,” he said.
To prevent drugs from crossing into Cambodia, Mr. Kheng said a committee was needed to focus on tackling drug trafficking. Most drugs were coming into the country through checkpoints on the Laos-Cambodia border, international airports and through the mail, he said.
This year, police and military police worked on 4,191 drug cases, including 1,112 cases involving drug users, National Police Commissioner General Neth Savoeun said at Thursday’s conference. Authorities arrested 9,802 suspects, including 3,611 drug users, and confiscated about 175 kg of drugs, he added.
(Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco)