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Public Health Program


Background: Harm reduction interventions in Cambodia face numerous obstacles because of conflicting understanding and interests and inconsistencies in the implementation by law enforcement officials. This study aims to examine how understanding and application of Drug Control Law (DCL) and Village/Commune Safety Policy (VCSP) affects harm reduction interventions in Cambodia from the standpoints of law enforcement officials, people who inject drugs and people who use drugs (PWID/PWUD), as well as other key stakeholders.

Methods: This qualitative study was conducted in the capital city of Phnom Penh in 2015. We held five focus group discussions (FGDs) with groups of PWID/PWUD, police officers, Sangkat/commune officers, and local non-governmental organization (NGO) field staff. We also conducted ten key informant interviews (KIIs) with representatives from government agencies, donor agencies, and NGOs. FGDs and KIIs with Cambodian participants were transcribed in Khmer and translated into English. KIIs with foreign participants were transcribed in English. Transcripts were read and re-read to identify emerging themes, which were reviewed and refined to develop common and divergent patterns.

Results: There was a huge gap between what the DCL and VCSP say and how law enforcement officers and PWID/PWUD understood them. The gap was also evident in how law enforcement officers implemented the DCL and VCSP. Harm reduction services, including health- and non-health-related interventions, were limited and challenged by unsupportive attitudes, misinterpretation of the DCL and VCSP, and the lack of full engagement with NGOs in the development of these instruments. The needs of PWID/PWUD in accessing health care services were not met due to misconduct of authorities while practicing the DCL and VCSP. Further, the misconduct and enforcement of the law and policy lead to increased social discrimination and physical abuses against PWID/PWUD.

Conclusions: There is a lack of common understanding of the drug-related law and policy and their implications to harm reduction services among both law enforcement officers and PWID/PWUD. Thus, there is a need to mainstream and simplify the law and policy for better comprehension among these actors. To improve the quality and coverage of harm reduction interventions, the gap of understanding and enforcement of laws and policies should be narrowed, and coordination between the government and NGOs and other key stakeholders should be strengthened.


Please see the work itself for the complete list of authors.

Publisher's Statement

Originally published in Harm Reduction Journal, 14 [Article 39]. Licensed under CC BY 4.0. The original material can be found here.



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