People who use drugs in Cambodia face serious and devastating problems as a result of their drug use – making Cambodia one of the world’s worst places for addicts.
In Cambodia, drug addiction is considered to be a choice as well as a result of bad morality. Because of this, addicts in Cambodia are regularly rounded up and detained in harsh and unsanitary conditions at detention centers. They have no access to legal counsel or medical treatment. Both children and adults are forced to do unpaid hard labor and are subjected to violence and abuse. Cambodian drug addicts are humiliated, given rotten and bug-infested food, suffer from malnutrition, and are forced to sweat out the drugs through strenuous exercise. They are even chained up, left out in the harsh sun and degraded.
State Treatment Centers in Cambodia
The Cambodian government takes the anti-drug policy approach in its 11 state-run drug treatment centers. Because treatment other than the state facilities is typically unavailable or too expensive, desperate families commit addicts to the center as a last resort. The majority of addicts at these centers, however, are arrested and detained as an attempt to stop their addiction. According to a report by Human Rights Watch, less than 2% of people in the state-run centers are there by choice.
“Treatment” at Cambodian State-Run Centers
Cambodia’s treatment of its drug users stands out for its brutality.
The treatment centers in Cambodia are like drug boot camps which aim to punish people for their addiction and to purge the drugs out of their system. Physical abuse, violence, sexual abuse including rape, and acts of torture are rampant. Former detainees at these centers have reported the use of electric shock, occurrence of whippings, forced labor and military-style drills.
Risky Treatment: Bong Sen
One highly controversial and widely criticized program is the herbal formula Bong Sen, which is administered to detained drug addicts at the treatment centers. Bong Sen is reportedly a cure for drug addiction which is administered to addicts over a period of 7 days. In the Cambodian treatment centers, Bong Sen has been administered to people by force and without their consent.
Bong Sen is an herbal detoxification remedy that is made in Vietnam. Cambodian authorities insist that those given the Bong Sen treatment were purely volunteers and that Bong Sen can safely and effectively curb the urge to use heroin and other opiates. However, there have been claims that people are being forced to take part in the treatment.
When the Cambodian government asked Korsang, a local non-governmental organization that works with drug users, to provide participants for the Bong Sen training program, it refused to cooperate. It cited concerns such as the lack of research to ensure the drug’s safety. Two weeks later, the government responded by refusing to renew Korsang’s license to run a needle exchange program, one of only two needle exchange programs in the country. In the weeks since their clean needle program stopped, drug users in Phnom Penh say it has become difficult to access sterile needles. Although HIV rates have dropped in Cambodia, from 2% to 0.8%, there are fears that there will be a new spike, due to the Cambodian government’s approach of punishment rather than rehabilitation.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.