Drug rehabilitation centre inmates faced with sometimes deadly abuse

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2005, 12:00am

When Liu Qing's middle-class parents admitted their only child to the Dianbai Compulsory Drug Rehabilitation Centre, it was a drastic attempt to end his dependency.

'[But] they probably couldn't think of any other way to help him,' said Lu Buhui, a veteran of detoxification centres in Guizhou who has written a book about his experiences. 'They decided to let him suffer hardship and learn a lesson.'

Liu's father, Liu Yihu , has been warned against speaking to reporters after his 24-year-old son died at the Dianbai centre in June.

As medical practitioners, Dr Liu and his wife would have known they were subjecting their son to a harsh rehabilitation programme. They had also probably heard that the centre had a record of so-called 'irregular deaths' and was told to rectify the situation a few years ago.

Mr Lu said during his first two stays at detoxification centres in 1995 and 1998, he suffered beatings. Things improved in 2003 after the central government ordered a reduction in 'irregular deaths' and surveillance cameras were installed.

Like most inmates at compulsory rehabilitation centres, Mr Lu had been arrested by police.

There are also voluntary detoxification centres, and at the other extreme, laojiao - re-education through labour centres - where repeat offenders are sent.

There were 519 compulsory drug rehabilitation centres on the mainland at the end of last year.

Despite a relapse rate of more than 90 per cent, the centres stay open because they are an expedient way to handle a growing drug abuse problem, experts say. And there is money to be made from the inmates.

But the fee-collecting and grossly understaffed facilities are prone to abuses that lead to incidents such as fights between inmates instigated by wardens.

Experts are now calling for the state to fund the operation of the centres instead.

Nicholas Becquelin, research director at Human Rights in China, says many doctors agree the centres are not working.

'But from a law enforcement angle, it is expedient,' Mr Becquelin said. 'You take [the addict] away, punish him and get money for it.

'It's the same with prostitution. When law-enforcement agencies have financial incentives to put people in detention, there are a lot of abuses because people's basic rights are not respected.'

East China University of Politics and Law lecturer Yao Jianlong said many academics opposed the charging of fees by detoxification centres.

'But you can't do away with it because some areas are too poor not to collect fees,' he said.

Dr Yao has worked at a laojiao detoxification facility and believes the relapse rate is as high as 98 per cent. Nevertheless, he has proposed to drafters of a drug-control bill that they abolish fee collection.

The bill was scheduled to be passed this year and enforced next year, but Dr Yao doubts it will be ready soon because more work is needed.

But not all centres are raising enough revenue, with some collecting only 25 per cent of what they need to operate.

This led to a Public Security Ministry proposal last year that the state provide 3.75 billion yuan a year to meet the treatment budget.

The ministry has also said police staffing at rehabilitation centres needs to be increased nine-fold.

Dr Yao admits methods used at detoxification centres are ineffective, but says: 'We have no better solution.'