The National Authority for Combating Drugs yesterday celebrated International Day Against Drugs under the theme Together for Our Drug-Free Life and Community, during which it destroyed 64 kilos of drugs worth about $2 million. NACD secretary-general General Meas Vyrith spoke with Khmer Times’ Editor-in-Chief Cheang Sokha about the campaign against drugs, the creation of rehab centres and treatment of addicts.
KT: What has been the result thus far of the government’s ongoing anti-drug campaign?
Gen Vyrith: We acknowledged that in the past years, drug problems were seen almost every day, especially downtown, and now this problem has decreased. Another point is the achievement of the Drug Control Committee in the capital; it has eliminated drug-using areas where trafficking was also occurring. The drug situation in Phnom Penh has improved dramatically, which has in turn also led to a decrease in crime and traffic accidents.
Our anti-drug campaigns have had good results and stopped drug use from spreading like before, and has also led to addicts being admitted into rehab centres. The work has led to the seizure of thousands of kilos of drugs.
KT: What course of action is taken against drug dealers compared tom drug users?
Gen Vyrith: For this work, the committee in charge of law enforcement, especially the committee preventing drug offences, has instructed police to clearly identify those who are dealers and those who are users. The Law on Drug Control has different punishments for those who use compared to those who produce, transport or traffic drugs, which could lead to life imprisonment. For using, a urine test is performed along with an investigation by police. Users are then identified and handed over to their families to be admitted to rehab.
In the case that police find a repeat offender using drugs, they are forced to get treatment by police and a prosecutor. If they don’t go to receive the treatment, those drug addicts would be imprisoned from one to six months. And if they still continue to use again and again after the rehabilitation service, there will be imprisonment from two months to one year. However, if they still agree to get the treatment service, the accusation will be dropped once they complete a full course of rehabilitation.
KT: How long does the rehabilitation service last for addicts?
Gen Vyrith: Normally, it depends on the level and duration of drugs they had used. For example, a doctor can analyse users and determine how much drugs they used and for how long, meaning they will then know the situation and how long is needed in rehab.
KT: Do you have any statistics related to the number of users, rehab centres operating, and how many have been jailed over drugs?
Gen Vyrith: If I’m not wrong, up to the present, more than 50 percent of those who have committed a crime related to growing, processing, transporting or trafficking of drugs have been imprisoned. And there are more than 10,000 of those that committed such crimes. For drug users that have been sent to receive the rehabilitation service, I don’t have the document in hand, but I know that there are nearly 8,000 people that have received rehab services at public and private centres, and more than 1,000 drug addicts volunteered to receive the service.
We have also noticed that they are still hiding and refusing to get rehab, however. This problem requires the NACD to make an effort to encourage drug addicts to receive treatment voluntarily at one of more than 400 centres opened by the Health Ministry.
KT: What cooperation do the authorities have with NGOs and the UN in the fight against drugs, including against transnational drug trafficking?
Gen Vyrith: UNODC is an organisation working on drugs and crime with many partners to facilitate work for combating drugs, for both trafficking and usage. So, all countries, almost 190 countries, are members of UNODC. This organisation has many mechanisms in Asia, including in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and China. UNODC has helped facilitate anti-drug work for all those countries, including Cambodia, where offices have been established along the border to battle drugs and transnational crime, including the trafficking of animals and forestry products.
At NACD, we divide our work to a national side and transnational side. For the latter, we cooperate with Thailand, Vietnam and Laos to battle drugs. So, all the institutions in each country cooperate with each other regularly and also have agreements, as well as meetings to exchange information in order to prevent drug trafficking across the borders and into domestic markets.
For Cambodia, the dug that has seriously affected our society comes from the Golden Triangle, as criminal groups find it easy to transport the drugs across the border from Laos. They have networks to do this work in almost all the countries in the region.
KT: By what year do you think the government can eradicate drug trafficking and usage?
Gen Vyrith: We can’t estimate this. UNODC, the organisation working to combat drugs, also cannot make such an estimate. For Asean, we once said that the problem would be solved by 2015, but it is now 2018 and we are still fighting. Our recent anti-drug campaigns in Cambodia have been successful, but even though the campaigns have slowed the spread of drugs, we cannot say what year the problem will be completely eliminated.
KT: What is your message to the people as the campaign continues?
Gen Vyrith: My appeal is to call on all people not to continue hiding children addicted to drugs; they must get treatment in order to eliminate the drugs market.