New Community-Based Drug Program to Launch

Municipal officials on Tuesday announced a new initiative to help rehabilitate Phnom Penh’s drug addicts by offering discreet treatment services at local health centers.

The initiative will encourage commune-level officials to visit known drug addicts in their community and tell them about the treatment options available at participating health centers, Chhum Vannrith, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Health, said during an event to announce the program at City Hall.

“[Local officials] must find addicts and encourage them to agree to take advantage of the treatment services at the health centers, and staff at the centers must provide treatment for them,” Mr. Vannrith said, adding that efforts should also be made to help the addicts secure employment.

Deputy Prime Minister Ke Kim Yan also encouraged civil servants to take themselves and their children for treatment at the health centers, if necessary.

“We know members of the police, military police and civil servants who are drug users, as well as powerful people’s children, so they should go first,” Mr. Kim Yan said.

“[The health centers] will keep it a secret,” he said.

The program, which will officially launch next month, is inspired by a similar community-based scheme that has been operating successfully in Banteay Meanchey province since 2010 as an alternative to forced drug-treatment centers, which have been criticized by rights groups for their handling of inmates.

David Harding, a drug-treatment officer at Friends, welcomed City Hall’s plan.

“It’s a really positive sign that the government have acknowledged that community-based treatment is a valid way to go,” Mr. Harding said.

“There is currently a reliance on the compulsory drug rehabilitation centers, which is the only alternative provided by government at the moment, so we see it as a positive step that they’re seeking alternative approaches,” he said.

“In Phnom Penh, there are a number of organizations that are working very closely with the drug using population in harm reduction, detoxification and rehabilitation, but even here it’s fairly limited, which is why the enthusiasm to actually bring this program into Phnom Penh is quite exciting.”

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