Drug use among youths living or working on Phnom Penh’s streets continued to increase this year, a survey completed in June and published in late September revealed.
The one-day survey of 2,271 children and youths up to 23 years old, conducted by Mith Samlanh/
Friends Drug Program, found that close to half of those surveyed abused substances ranging from glue to amphetamines.
Of those using drugs, 61.5 percent took methamphetamine and 20.7 percent used heroin—both increases over last year. The use of glue, increasingly an “introductory” street drug, decreased significantly, the study found.
A special cause for concern, experts said, was a 13.5 percent increase in the use of heroin since 2004—with the vast majority of users injecting it.
“One of the alarming things for me was the intravenous drug use on the streets, because this has the highest rate of transmission of HIV and blood-borne diseases,” said Graham Shaw, technical officer in HIV and drug abuse at the World Health Organization. “It indicates that over the coming months and years, illicit drug-related HIV transmission is likely to become a major health and social issue in Cambodia.”
David Harding, a technical assistant at Friends International, noted that drug use among street children has accelerated at an extraordinary rate.
“Things have happened extremely quickly. You’ve gone from effectively no illicit drugs in use in Cambodia to an epidemic among street children in 8 years,” he said.
Now, 77.5 percent of youths living on the streets use drugs of some kind, the study found.
Shaw attributed the rise in part to easy access and affordability of drugs. Harding noted that heroin is now even more affordable than yama, and predicts it will soon become the drug of choice.
Wearing ragged clothing, a 20-year-old sat on a curb near where he works as a motorbike guard and where he lives alone on the street.
He would not give his name, but admitted to sniffing glue.
“I’m going to sniff in a few minutes,” he said. “This morning, I took two [yama pills],” he added.
He said he’s been using drugs since age 7. He knew about Mith Samlanh’s rehabilitation program and that had even stayed there a few days, but he ran away because they wouldn’t let him have drugs.
“I want to stop but it seems like I’m addicted,” he said. “I always think about drugs.”
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)