Cambodia

Emerging trends and concerns

  • The availability and use of methamphetamine in pill and crystalline form continues to expand. With the expansion, there have been steep increases in both the number of drug-related arrests and the number of persons admitted for drug treatment in the country in recent years.
  • Transnational drug trafficking groups, predominantly from East and Southeast Asia, continue to target Cambodia as a source, transit and destination country for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) and other illicitly-used drugs.
  • Comparatively large quantities of methamphetamine have been seized in Cambodia during the past couple of years, and seizures of crystalline methamphetamine reached record highs in 2015.
  • Substantial quantities of safrole-rich oils (SRO)1,  a major precursor chemical for MDMA manufacture, have been seized in recent years.

Overview of the drug situation

Methamphetamine, in particular in crystalline form, remains the primary drug of concern in Cambodia. Several indicators point to the continuing availability and use of methamphetamine, in both pill and crystalline form.

According to a study2 conducted by the Government of Cambodia, an estimated 13,0003 persons reported the use of an illicit drug in the past 12 months in the country in 2012. Of these, approximately one fourth lived in Phnom Penh. Of the total number of drug users, approximately 81.3% used crystalline methamphetamine, 46.0% methamphetamine pills and 5.4% “ecstasy”4. The estimated number of people who inject drugs in Cambodia in 2012 was 1,300.

Table 1. Trend in use of selected drugs in Cambodia, 2011-2015*
Source(s): DAINAP; NACD “Cambodia country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme Regional Workshop, Jakarta, 28-29 August 2013; Official communication with NACD, September 2014 and March 2015.

The total number of arrests for drug-related offences in Cambodia increased approximately eighteen-fold from 394 persons in 2008 to 7,008 persons in 2015. While Cambodia does not provide drug-related arrest data5 disaggregated by drug type, the increase may be attributed to an increase in use of methamphetamine6.  

Figure 1. Drug-related arrests in Cambodia, 2008 – 2015
Source(s): DAINAP; NACD, “Cambodia country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015; NACD, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Cambodia”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.
 
Similar to the number of drug-related arrests, the number of admissions to temporary drug treatment centres7 for drug use has been increasing rapidly in Cambodia. For instance, between 2011 and 2015, there has been an almost five-fold increase in the number of treatment admissions, from 1,011 to 4,959 in 20158.  Considering that the number of drug treatment centres (10) remained unchanged in that period, the steep surge in the number of treatment admissions might reflect an overall increase in drug use in the country, which was also perceived by experts, particularly with regard to the use of methamphetamine. According to the latest available data for the number of treatment admissions by drug type (2014), methamphetamine accounted for approximately 90% of the total number of drug users admitted for treatment in that year (3,249) in the country - 75% for crystalline methamphetamine and 15% for methamphetamine pills – which roughly corresponds to the estimated proportion of use of methamphetamine among people who use drugs9. The majority (82%) of drug users in treatment centres in 2014 were between 18-35 years old.  Furthermore, additional 7,753 drug users received drug treatment services at 36 community health centres and 11 hospitals in 201511.  

Figure 2. The number of admissions to drug treatment centres in Cambodia 2011 – 2015
Note: Data does not include drug treatment admissions to community health centres and hospitals.
Source(s): DAINAP; NACD, “Cambodia country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015; Ministry of Health of Cambodia, “Community-based treatment system for drug users and drug-dependent offenders in Cambodia”, presented at Seminar on Developing Standards for Community-Based Treatment in ASEAN: Focusing on Treatment for Drug Use/Dependence Offenders, March, 2016.

Comparatively large quantities of methamphetamine have been seized in Cambodia during the past couple of years. In 2015, seizures of crystalline methamphetamine reached a record high in 2015 with 72.9 kg (29.1 kg in 2014 and 32.5 kg in 2013). The number of methamphetamine pills seized in 2015 was 265,760 - the largest quantities over the last 7 years (87,000 pills in 2014 and 173,349 pills in 2013). The steep increases in 2015 were largely due to a single trafficking case involving 38.17 kg of crystalline methamphetamine and 170,030 methamphetamine pills, all of which originated from the Golden Triangle. The number of “ecstasy” pills seized in Cambodia remains small compared with elsewhere in the region, with seizures of 70 “ecstasy” pills in 2015. A limited amount of ketamine is seized in Cambodia each year. In 2015, approximately 15 g of ketamine was seized12.  Cambodia has not reported the use or seizures of any other new psychoactive substance13 to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) on NPS14.

In recent years, the Cambodian national authorities have made several significant seizures of precursor chemicals related to ATS manufacture. In particular, safrole-rich oils (SRO), one of the key precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of “ecstasy”, continue to be produced in the country and trafficked to other countries and regions, including Europe. For instance, in August 2014, approximately 5,220 kg of SRO was found by the police buried underground in the Pursat province, located in the western part of the country next to the Gulf of Thailand15.  A further 110 litres of SRO were reported seized in the same province in May 201616.   
 
Cambodia has been frequently targeted by transnational drug trafficking groups. In 2014, there were 129 foreign national arrestees in 52 cases17.  A large proportion of the cases were related to cross-border trafficking between Cambodia and its neighbouring countries such as Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. Large amounts of methamphetamine (in pill and crystalline form) and heroin, reportedly manufactured in Myanmar, continue to be trafficked into Cambodia through its northeastern border with Lao PDR18.  The drugs are then often repackaged for further trafficking via overland routes and air passenger couriers to neighboring countries (primarily Thailand and Viet Nam) and to international markets, primarily Australia19.


Table 2. Seizures of selected drugs in Cambodia, 2011-2015
● = Not reported/unspecified amount. a The figures include quantities reported as grams; all of which were converted into estimated pill equivalent at 100 mg per pill.  b The figures include quantities reported as grams; all of which were converted into estimated pill equivalent of 300 mg per pill. c Less than 0.05 kg of ketamine was seized.  
Source(s): DAINAP; NACD, “Brief Operation Results of Cambodia Law Enforcement in Combating Drugs 2012”; NACD, “Cambodia country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015; NACD, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Cambodia” presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.

The retail price of methamphetamine pills has remained relatively stable from 2008 to 2014, at around US$5 per pill20.  However, in 2015, the Cambodian National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) reported to UNODC that it had observed a decrease in the retail price of methamphetamine pills to around US$ 2.50 per pill21.  In the absence of a significant decreases in the purity levels of methamphetamine pills found in the country over the same period, the significant decrease in price might indicate greater availability of methamphetamine pills. Data on the retail price of crystalline methamphetamine are unavailable in Cambodia. However, as with methamphetamine pills, the wholesale price of one kilogram of crystalline methamphetamine is indicated to have also decreased from approximately US$ 60,000 in 2012 to US$ 30,000 – 35,000 in 201522.  The crystalline methamphetamine samples had purities ranging from 1%-90% in 2015, comparable to the figures reported for 2013 (4%-84%) and 2014 (3% - 80%)23.  The methamphetamine pill samples had purities ranging from 2% - 23% in 2015 (14% – 19% in 2014 and 3% - 19% in 2013)24

______________________________

1 Safrole is a substance listed in Table 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988, as well as in Cambodia’s Drug Law. The International Narcotics Control Board defines safrole-rich oils as being ‘any mixtures or natural products containing safrole present in such a way that it can be used or recovered by readily applicable means’. International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), “Precursors and chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances 2008”, Vienna, February 2009.

2 National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD) and the National Centerfor HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STD (NCHADS), “National Population Size Estimation, HIV Related Risk Behaviors and HIV Prevalence among the People Who Used Drugs in Cambodia in 2012”, Phnom Penh, March 2014.

3 Several methodologies were used in the survey to develop an estimate of the population size of people who use drugs (PWUD), including capture-recapture, multiplier methods and the review of existing reports. The final estimate of 13,000 PWUD (range 12,000 – 28,000) is the result of a triangulation of estimates obtained by different methods.  

4 “Ecstasy” pills sold as ecstasy in Cambodia may contain substances other than MDMA. Other drugs of use reported in this study were cannabis used by 10.5% of drug users and heroin (7.1%). Multiple responses were possible.

5 Drug-related arrest data include offences related to trafficking and distribution but not drug use offences.

6 Drug Abuse Information Network for Asia and the Pacific (DAINAP); NACD, “Cambodia country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015; Ministry of Health of Cambodia, “Community-based treatment system for drug users and drug-dependent offenders in Cambodia”, presented at Seminar on Developing Standards for Community-Based Treatment in ASEAN: Focusing on Treatment for Drug Use/Dependence Offenders, March, 2016.    

7 Temporary drug treatment centres is a term used by the Government of Cambodia and it refers to centres in closed settings. 

8 Ministry of Health of Cambodia, “Community-based treatment system for drug users and drug-dependent offenders in Cambodia”, presented at Seminar on Developing Standards for Community-Based Treatment in ASEAN: Focusing on Treatment for Drug Use/Dependence Offenders, March, 2016.

9 DAINAP.

10 Ibid.

11 NACD, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Cambodia”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.

12 Ibid

13 UNODC defines NPS as “substances of abuse, either in a pure form or a preparation, that are not controlled by the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs or the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, but which may pose a public health threat”.

14 UNODC, Early Warning Advisory on NPS, https://www.unodc.org/LSS/Announcement?type=NPS (Accessed in Jan 2016).

15 NACD, “Cambodia country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015.   

16 Khmer Times, “Illegal Oil Leads to Arrests”, 08 May 2016.

17 NACD, “Cambodia country presentation”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional meeting, Beijing, China, 16-17 September, 2015.   

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 NACD, “Latest situation on synthetic drugs and responses to the threats in Cambodia”, presented at the Global SMART Programme regional workshop, Vientiane, Lao PDR, 30-31 August, 2016.

22 Ibid.     

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.