Thursday, June 21, 2007

Drug Rehab in China

After two years of a nationwide “people’s war” against drug addiction in China, government authorities are claiming major accomplishments—but treatment, which is mostly compulsory, remains limited and largely ineffective, Chinese doctors say.

The Chinese surge against drugs was credited with numerous successes almost before it had begun. Zhou Yongkang, Minister of Public Security, told the official news agency Xinhua that officials had seized more than two tons of methamphetamine, and three million “head-shaking pills”--otherwise known as Ecstasy tablets.

Two years later, in June of 2007, Minister Yongang, claimed that the number of drug abusers in China had been cut from 1.16 million to 720,400 due to compulsory rehabilitation measures. “The effort has yielded remarkable results,” Yongang told the China Daily. (Other drug experts estimate the number of Chinese drug addicts to be 3 million or more.)

However, a recent paper co-authored by several Chinese physicians, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, suggests that things are not so rosy. The report, titled, “Attitudes, Knowledge, and Perceptions of Chinese Doctors Towards Drug Abuse,” paints a dismal picture: Less than half the Chinese doctors working in drug abuse had any formal training in the treatment of drug addicts, the report found. Moreover, less than half of the treatment physicians believed that addiction was a disorder of the brain. (One cannot help wondering whether the percentage for American doctors would be any higher.)

The study could find no coherent doctrine or set of principles for drug rehabilitation being employed in China, beyond mandatory detox facilities. In the Chinese government’s White Paper on “Narcotics Control in China,” the practice of “reeducation-through-labor” is considered to be the most effective form of treatment. Another name for this form of treatment would be: prison.

There are perhaps as many as 200 voluntary drug treatment centers as well. These centers emphasize treating withdrawal symptoms, and feature more American-style group interaction and education, but observers say such centers are often used by people evading police or running from their parents.

In addition, the lack of formal support from the Chinese government has led to the closing of several such facilities after only a few months. The American origins of such treatment modalities have not helped sell such programs to government officials. Pharmaceutical treatments for craving remain unavailable in China.


--Fan, Maureen. “U.S.-Style Rehabs Take Root in China as Addiction Grows.” Washington Post Foreign Service, A14, January 19, 2007.

--Yi-Lang Tang, et. al. “Attitudes, Knowledge, and Perceptions of Chinese Doctors Towards Drug Abuse.” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. vol. 29 no. 3. 215-220.

--“Anti-Drug Campaign Yields Result.” China Daily. June 16, 2007.

--“With Prohibition Failing, China Calls for ‘People’s War’ on Drugs.” Drug War Chronicle. vol. 381. 4/8/05

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