Four drug re­hab cen­tres to open in De­cem­ber

The Myanmar Times - - News - KHIN SU WAI khin­suwai@mm­times.com

A 300-BED drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre in down­town Man­dalay is one of four set to open this year in an ef­fort to boost re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion-fo­cused med­i­cal treat­ment and coun­sel­ing ser­vices for drug users, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial.

One-stop re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tres will open in Man­dalay as well as Kachin State’s Mohnyin and Bhamaw/Bhamo town­ships and Sa­gaing Re­gion’s Sa­gaing town­ship in De­cem­ber, Drug De­pen­dence Treat­ment and Re­search Unit project man­ager Nanda Myo Aung Wan told The Myan­mar Times.

A host of cen­tres were opened in 2015 in My­itky­ina, Lashio, Muse, Kalay and Tamu town­ships.

The state-spon­sored cen­tres pro­vide, among other forms of treat­ment, methadone to fight the with­drawal symp­toms ex­pe­ri­enced by heroin users.

But Nanda Myo Aung Wan said as the project ex­pands, staffing lev­els have not kept pace.

“While the amount of drug users we pro­vide treat­ment to grows, we have the same amount of med­i­cal staff,” Nanda Myo Aung Wan said. “This is the challenge for us.”

In 2014, the coun­try had 300,000 drug users, in­clud­ing 83,000 who use nee­dles, ac­cord­ing to re­search from the United Na­tions Of­fice on Drugs and Crime.

One Man­dalay man, U Thein Aung, told The Myan­mar Times that his older brother was ad­dicted to heroin for 20 years while at­tempt­ing to break the habit at pri­vate cen­tres in Man­dalay.

This is the first time a lo­ca­tion in Man­dalay will be pro­vid­ing this type of ser­vice, said the na­tional HIV/AIDS pro­gram’s U Than Win. The hos­pi­tal will also dis­trib­ute an­tiretro­vi­ral therapy (ART), an HIV treat­ment, and cover travel ex­penses, he said.

“When we con­ducted re­search on the be­hav­iour of drug ad­dicts in 2014 and again in 2015, we found that the rate of HIV is climb­ing among drug users faster than in any other group,” he said. “On the 100th day of the new govern­ment, we went to the pris­ons in Man­dalay and found out there are nee­dle-based drug users who are also HIV pa­tients. We can pro­vide more methadone and ART, but the big challenge is drug ad­dicts who are not able to stop their ad­dic­tion.”

In recog­ni­tion of its failed drug poli­cies, the govern­ment in 2012 ex­tended its 15-year drug elim­i­na­tion plan by five years, to 2019. The fol­low­ing year, the Home Af­fairs Min­istry out­lined to par­lia­ment a new ac­tion plan fo­cus­ing on 51 town­ships in Shan, Kayah and Chin states, which aimed to shift the focus from pun­ish­ing drug users to pro­vid­ing med­i­cal treat­ment.

Drug users who will­ingly reg­is­ter their ad­dic­tion with po­lice and health au­thor­i­ties can avoid criminal pun­ish­ment un­der Myan­mar laws, which set tough prison sen­tences for nar­cotics use, pos­ses­sion and sale, if they can en­ter manda­tory methadone main­te­nance therapy at one of 46 hospi­tals across the coun­try. Health ex­perts have called for methadone therapy and other so-called harm-re­duc­tion strate­gies for drug users to be ex­panded.

In 2015, there were 6414 drug cases brought against 9188 sus­pects, ac­cord­ing to Ma­jor Gen­eral Aung Soe, the deputy min­is­ter for home af­fairs.

Photo: Khin Su Wai

Ve­hi­cles park out­side a drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre in the city of Man­dalay.

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