Compulsory treatment of drug use in Southeast Asian countries

Int J Drug Policy. 2018 Sep;59:10-15. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2018.06.009. Epub 2018 Jun 29.


Background: Several Southeast Asian countries have implemented compulsory drug detention centres in which people who use or are suspected of using drugs, mainly amphetamine-type stimulants, are confined without their consent and in most cases without due process and clinical evaluation of their substance use disorder. Given these facilities' lack of access to evidence-based drug dependence treatment, and the human rights implications of peoples' arbitrary detention under the pretext of "treatment", international organizations have called for their closure. The aim of this study was to estimate recent numbers of compulsory drug treatment centres and of people in these centres in the region.

Methods: We conducted an analysis of cross-sectional governmental data collected from seven countries in the region with compulsory drug detention centres, namely Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. We computed descriptive data provided by government representatives for the period between 2012 and 2014.

Results: The total number of people in compulsory detention centres overall decreased by only 4% between 2012 and 2014. In 2014, over 450,000 people were detained in 948 facilities in the seven countries. While only two countries decreased the number of compulsory detention centres, most countries increased the number of people detained.

Conclusions: In spite of international calls for the closure of compulsory detention centres, the number of facilities and detained people remained high in the seven countries included in the analysis. These officially reported figures are concerning regarding access to effective drug dependence treatment and given the potential for additional human rights abuses within compulsory detention centers. Further concerted policy and advocacy efforts should support transition of treatment for people with drug dependence towards human rights-based and evidence-based drug dependence treatment. Expansion of existing drug and HIV services in the community rather than compulsory treatment modalities will effectively address the region's drug and HIV burden.

Keywords: Mandatory drug treatment; People who inject drugs; People who use drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Users / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • HIV Infections / etiology
  • HIV Infections / therapy
  • Human Rights Abuses / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Mandatory Programs / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / virology