Domestic abuse of methamphetamine and the trafficking of heroin through Cambodia increased significantly in 2003, and the trend could put the country on the verge of catastrophe, according to a new report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime obtained Monday.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the impact of illicit drug use upon Cambodia’s fragile economic and social status will be catastrophic in the coming years and will force many people, families and communities into poverty,” stated the 2003 annual UN report on Cambodia’s illicit drug situation.
According to the report, seizures of methamphetamine, known locally as yama, increased by about 50 percent last year compared to 2002. Police also seized 46.72 kg of heroin worth about $560,000 in Phnom Penh last year, a “substantial increase” over the 1.9 kg of heroin seized in 2002.
“The increasing number of seizures last year means either there is better law enforcement or higher quantities of drugs being trafficked through the region,” Graham Shaw, director of the UNODC, said Monday. “We would be surprised if the training provided by the international community has had such a dramatic effect so quickly.”
Indeed, the report says the government has sent “mixed messages” regarding its commitment to control drug trafficking and fully cooperate with the international community. Because Cambodia has not ratified any of the three international drug control conventions—in 1961, 1971 and 1988—it continues “to be regarded as a pariah state by many in the international community,” the report said.
“It’s true, the flowing of drugs across the country has increased,” Lour Ramin, deputy secretary-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said Monday.
The government plans to crack down on drug trafficking, Lour Ramin added, but he acknowledged that it might not have the capacity to do so. “There is a gap between law enforcement and the equipment needed to fight drug trafficking, and the drug traffickers seize the opportunity,” he said.
Police need better equipment to fight traffickers, such as offshore patrolling and faster and more reliable speedboats to catch dealers on the Mekong River, Shaw said. “It’s not a fair fight,” he said.
Despite the need, donors have been reluctant to provide help, the report said. It called on the government to put drug control issues on top of its agenda at the next Consultative Group meeting.
Though no statistics are available, the report said anecdotal accounts suggest that methamphetamine abuse among school children is increasing. Methamphetamine is being marketed to school children as a study aid and a “powerful vitamin to help you become more popular and attractive to the opposite sex,” the report said.
“If large numbers of young people get addicted and have no treatment, the [gross domestic product] will be hit, and it will be hit quite hard,” Shaw said. “It’s a major problem and it’s starting to affect the country’s development.”