Skepticism Looms Over Local Pharmacy’s ‘Cure’ For Addiction

Street children and middle class businessman alike may have little trouble getting illicit drugs in Cam­bodia, but when it comes to finding treatment, there are few services for rehabilitation, some experts say.

But one Phnom Penh pharmacy claims to have the “cure” for drug addiction in a product called Xuan Xia.

An advertisement in the Khmer daily newspaper Koh Santepheap de­scribed Xuan Xia as a “highly effective drug-weakening medicine” that “can cure [addiction] in a short period of time.”

The ad is sponsored by Raks­mey Angkor pharmacy, where the drug is sold exclusively, the ad said. The inconspicuous black and white advertisement also claims the treatment has Ministry of Health approval.

Ministry officials said the ministry never approved Xuan Xia, adding that the product’s claims were false.

“The Ministry of Health never [allowed] or [provided] licensing to such a drug company,” said Voeung Yimheang, chief of the min­istry’s Narcotic Control and Trade Bureau.

“No medicine could weaken drug addiction, particularly for persons addicted to [amphetamine-type stimulants].” Xuan Xia’s producers are probably targeting the numerous users of highly addictive, amphetamine-type stimulants, he said.

At $85 for a bottle of 100 pills, a pharmacist at Raksmey Angkor, who declined to give her name, said that the amount of Xuan Xia needed to cure a patient varies, but that it works if used properly.

“It is a really good drug because it can help addicts survive,” the pharm­acist said, adding that the medicine is imported from Thai­land and Hong Kong.

Patients who have used drugs for one year are directed to take 24 pills a day for the first three days of treatment, and then 16 pills a day until the pills run out.

Two-year addicts are instructed to take two bottles of Xuan Xia, at a cost of $170, and an additional bottle should be taken for every year of drug addiction, the pharmacist said.

Meas Vyrith, director of the Nar­cotic, Scientific, and Detection Lab­oratory at the National Authori­ty for Combating Drugs con­demn­­ed the advertisement for mis­leading Cambodians.

“Upon my own experiences, [at the] international level and at the World Health Organization, there are no drug medicines that can weak­­en [addiction] or keep alive drug addicts,” Meas Vyrith said.

Although the Xuan Xia advertisement does not specify the type of substance abuse that it cures, Meas Vyrith discredited any drug that claims to cure all addictions.

Currently, amphetamines are the most common forms of illicit drugs used in Cambodia, followed by opiates, said Graham Shaw, a UN Office on Drugs and Crime program officer in Cambodia.

Whereas substitution drugs like methadone are used to treat strong physical addiction caused by opiates, users hooked on amphetamines, such as the drug commonly called yaba, are usually treated with rigorous counseling, Shaw said.

Xuan Xia is only one example of products currently marketed as an addiction antidote, Meas Vyrith said. It is more likely that the drug is some sort of herbal remedy, he added.

Although he had not seen the product, Meas Vyrith has seen this type of herbal product before. Some of them even have antidepressant qualities that will make patients feel the medicine is working, he said.

Purchasing Xuan Xia would only work to turn victims of drug abuse into victims of false advertising, Meas Vyrith said.

“That kind of drug is not effective; it’s not right that they advertise such drug medicine.”

Taking a do-it-yourself approach to rehabilitation, Meas Vyrith recommended that addicts “stay away” from drugs until the substance is cleared from their system. Next, patients should visit a psychiatrist who can dispense a prescription to treat conditions that might make the person predisposed to addiction, he said.

For those who cannot afford ex­pensive overseas rehabilitation, there are NGOs and hospitals that offer treatment, but these facilities operate on a small scale, Shaw said.

“The reality is that there is very limited service and quality,” he said.

 

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