Number of Drug Users Going to Rehab Too Low, Officials Say

The number of drug users seeking rehabilitation services is too low, the country’s anti-drug czar declared on Tuesday, saying that the government was considering a plan that would give police the authority to bypass courts and send users directly to rehab.

“There are 177 rehabilitation centers spread out [around the country], but the number of people coming to receive treatment is very low. It doesn’t meet our expectations,” said Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD).

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Anti-drug chief Ke Kim Yan, center, presides over a meeting at the Interior Ministry headquarters in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Fresh News)

General Kim Yan said the agency was considering changing legal procedures to give local police the authority to send drug users to rehab centers.

Users “might get scared to see the prosecutor, so they don’t go get treatment, because they are afraid that they would be sent to jail,” he told reporters, speaking during the first day of a two-day NACD conference at the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh.

“We consider drug users to be victims,” he added, in what has become a refrain amid a drug crackdown that started at the beginning of the year.

Nearly 6,300 people have been arrested for drug-related crimes so far this year—more than double the 2,492 people arrested for drug crimes in the first three months of last year, according to NACD figures.

Slightly less than half of those arrested were drug traffickers.

In January, the government launched a six-month anti-drug crackdown, aiming to cut drug trafficking and ramp up rehab services in light of a more than 20 percent rise in identified drug users from 2015 to last year.

Last year, 56 percent of identified drug users—about 11,600 people—received treatment, Gen. Kim Yan said. In 2015, 7,753 users were treated.

Meas Vyrith, secretary-general of the NACD, said users often avoid rehab out of fear.

“They think that they have committed a crime, haven’t received information or don’t trust rehabilitation services,” General Vyrith said.

Sem Sithat, drug project manager at the NGO Friends-International, said allowing police to determine when to send people to rehab could be effective—if done right.

“If the legal action doesn’t create a supportive environment that encourages them to go get services and always arrests and hurts them, I think they will still be afraid to receive services,” he said.

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