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.

Vehicles park outside a drug rehabilitation centre in the city of Mandalay. Photo: Khin Su Wai / The Myanmar TimesVehicles park outside a drug rehabilitation centre in the city of Mandalay. Photo: Khin Su Wai / The Myanmar Times

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.

Link: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/mandalay-upper-myanmar/23167-four-drug-rehab-centres-to-open-in-december.html