Extreme Abuse in the Name of Drug “Treatment”

We took him there with the hope of rehabilitation, and that he would stop using drugs. We didn’t send him to get beaten up.
Family member of a detainee

If a group of men grab you off the street, call you a danger to society, and lock you in a “treatment” facility where you are beaten for trying to escape, who should protect you? This is one of the many troubling questions raised in a new report edited by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and funded by the Open Society Foundations.

Though human rights groups have criticized government-run drug detention centers for practices including forced labor and torture in countries in East and Southeast Asia, private centers—often run by vigilante groups or religious institutions—can be just as abusive. Accounts of life in these centers have also emerged from Russia and Serbia.

Even countries throughout Latin America—a region of the world has lately lauded for its increasingly progressive stance on drugs—allow these punitive institutions. Governments in these countries at best turn a blind eye, and at worst are complicit.

Here are four ways that these private detention centers violate individual rights in Latin America:

  • Admission is often forced or coerced. Families often don’t know the bleak reality of conditions in the center, or see no other alternative for treatment. As one family member in Mexico said, “We took him there with the hope of rehabilitation, and that he would stop using drugs. We didn’t send him to get beaten up; that was never our aim.” In other cases, centers send volunteers out on “hunting parties” to essentially kidnap people on the streets who appear intoxicated. In some instances, police participate in roundups. When the “patients” arrive at the center, staff or volunteers from the centers often physically force them inside against their will. 
  • “Patients” are held against their will. People describe steel bars, razor wire, concrete walls topped with glass shards, and guards tasked with keeping them inside the centers. Adequate medical care may even be restricted due to worries about escape. Family visits are usually monitored and terms of “treatment” can be extended arbitrarily. One detainee in Guatemala complained, “My family brought me here. And, from what I know, the pastor has to tell my family that I’m ready to go. I don’t know [if] they will find a reason to keep me here, and every time I think I am ready, they change the game.”
  • Torture passes for treatment. One detainee described the routine in the center where he was being held: “The head guy would put shoes on, tell us to lie down, and then run on top of us. Back and forth. Back and forth. After he would beat us, he would make us sleep on the stairs, in boxers. He called it discipline.” Detainees also report physical punishment for complaining about conditions or other behavioral infractions. In a Guatemalan center, for example, those who say, “I don’t like it,” are punished with 1,000 squats, as are those who “fail to love the Bible.” Swearing is punished with 1,000 squats per letter, "including the spaces.” Escape attempts are punished with 5,000 squats a day for eight days.
  • People are dying in detention. In Peru, two fires in religious centers claimed the lives of those placed there for “rehabilitation”; detainees struggled against locked doors as they burned to death. In an account from Mexico, a sister described her brother’s death from the physical abuse he received by center personnel. There are likely many other similar cases that haven’t received widespread attention.

Even though many of these centers are run by private entities, it is the responsibility of governments to monitor them to ensure that abuses don’t happen. Unfortunately, governments are doing very little to prevent human rights violations in private centers, to sanction the facilities, or to punish those responsible. 

In fact, many such centers are not even officially registered with government entities. For example the Peruvian agency responsible for drug prevention and treatment noted that of 222 “rehabilitation” facilities in the country, only 20 percent have all the necessary licenses and required medical staff. There are an estimated 700 “treatment” slots in registered facilities for an estimated 100,000 people in need. In Guatemala, there is reportedly one government worker responsible for visiting the hundreds of drug rehabilitation centers and accrediting them.

The United States is among those governments offering training to staff and assessment of drug treatment centers in an effort to improve conditions. But these efforts sidestep the critical issue that many people in these centers don’t actually need to be there. Many of them do not have a problematic dependence on drugs and are not clinically in need of treatment, or they are from other “socially undesirable” groups like homeless people, or those with disabilities, and shouldn’t be detained in the first place. 

The answer isn’t to improve centers that hold people against their will. Instead, governments need to make evidence-based, voluntary treatment in their communities more available—and make sure that centers that repeatedly violate human rights are closed for good.

30 Comments

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So what is your game plan?

very sad, how best should we avoid this?

Governments have a responsibility to regulate drug treatment centers and to respond to any allegations of abuse. There should also be clear channels for victims to report abuses. As these abuses come to light through the work of advocates like the Special Rapporteur on Torture, civil society groups should press their own governments to respond.

So many innocent victoms of this unnecessary war...

Everybody knows that governments in these countries at best turn a blind eye, and at worst are complicit, they think those sick people are less important, just like garbage.

Thankyou very much for the information about rehabilitation centers activities abusing basic human rights of Drugs users.

Its most of things is similar things happening in Nepal..And We NUNN is doing advocacy for against such activities doing by REHABILITATION CENTERS Which anti human rights activities doing for them personal business and benefits , Which is running by business oriented most of Treatment centers are private and not enough facilities , giving physical touchers on a names of treatment therapy.

If OSF really intresting and willing to working in this issues for insure basic rights of PUD in Nepal= cd4 I

Evidence-based voluntary treatment is the only way forward and must replace all private centres that violate human rights.

Horrible! Indefensible! Shut these torture camps down!

I live in country where extreme discrimination of heroin addicts became pharmaceutical crime against right of patients. Only orthodox countries as Serbia ignore demands of patients to pay with own money imported Methadone from our neighbor Croatia. Patients here suffer and beg WHO to involve in situation and start to monitor quality of Methadone because on Serbian market only fake Methadone is available and Serbia do everything to cover that.

We must not let some of the most vulnerable members of our societies be detained and ill-treated as a result of a lack of understanding of them or a desire to exercise power over them. We need to make education, training and funds available to support those dependent on drugs, rather than delivering them to abuse.

Very informative and real picture of affairs. It is a field for many journalists like me from Pakistan to investigate the situation in our countries.

The term "Conservative Christian" is an oxymoron!

This atrocious cruelty must be stopped!

Do you have representative in Kenya. If yes, where are they.
Please let me have contact address for anyone whom we can report some of the abuses we know.
A. G. RIUNGU.

What a shame that this can happen in civilised countries!
Better surveillance by the respective governments is surely necessary. There are always sadistic types who run wild in justice-free institutions.

This is shocking but not surprising given the things that happen in the world today. Thank you for revealing it to us. I hope something can be done to stop this abuse of personal freedom.

Every Government, must know that the major focus of good governence is the protection of the basic rights of all citizens. If there is anyone/group that is abusing the rights of the citizens, that person/group should be emmediately stop or deal with accornding to law.

I thought, have they not heard of the Milgram experiment? Of course these governments know but don't care. It allows a legal outlet for violent thugs to have their way. Psychopaths enabled by government and churches and the fact that druggies are looked down upon by 'respectable' people who don''t give a damn.
Demagogues need a population to demonise. Can't get away with abusing Jews and Gipsies anymore, though Gays are fair game in many places. But drug addicts - they don't have any rights at all, not if they're poor, though the rich mans son will be treated kindly of course when he needs help dealing with his coke habit.

This is terrible; I bet the addicts are worse off after the treatment and take even harder drugs to try to forget what happened to them.

The identical and extreme cases of violations of drug users' Human Rights are rampant in Nepal. Rehab centers owners' has tie up with security personnel and give bribe when refer cases from police custody to the Rehab centers. In the Rehab centers, clients are beaten up rampantly if not willing to stay there. In extreme cases some even lead to death. The cases have been reported to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) though not taken appropriate measures. The problem lies with anyone can get a license from MoHA's own Drugs department as no practice of review of abilities of the Rehab centers' owners either they are able to run a rehab or not. The standard as developed by MoHA has not followed well. So, measures should be taken to make Government authorities responsible to observe and regularize the mismanagement of the Rehab centers.

I agree. These abuses can happen anywhere, especially to groups that are stigmatized and ostracized, like people who use drugs. Ultimately, governments need to do more to sanction centers with abusive practices and hold perpetrators accountable. Thanks for calling attention to the situation in Nepal.

This situation comes up in society when the Dextoxi centers are managed by people who have no inner compassion.

The focus should be on the individual drug addict who is in need of help.

Just wanting to run an institution to FORCE addicts to give up drugs , can never work

Human rights must come before anything else, these governments need to understand this!

This kind of stuff also happens in America. I personally was powerfully persuaded (it was either treatment or my family would completely cut me off) by my parents to attend a religion-based treatment center in Harmony, NC called Teen Challenge. The place was horrible, we were completely cut-off from society (couldn't even read a newspaper or make phone calls) and were essentially brain washed into believing that we were morally corrupt people and could only be healed my doing everything the staff required and subscribing to the group's beliefs. On my first night there, I wasn't hungry and didn't want to eat their dinner. My refusal landed me in the "prayer closet" where I was to ask God for his forgiveness for not following their (aka God's) commands to eat dinner that night. I sat completely terrified in a dark, small coat closet (which was locked from the other side) for what seemed like eternity....but was probably only an hour or two. Thankfully I was able to escape the facility two days later, but many of the girls there had equally horrible stories of mistreatment by staff.

Thank you for sharing your experience. All too often families send their loved ones to these abusive centers with the best of intentions. It's time to shine more light on what really goes on in the name of drug treatment.

This is a very brutality towards the innocent people. So, we keep adovacy for that issue, and everything has pros and cons. So, lets fight agant these criminality.

In Dallas, TX, I am experiencing human rights violations and forced admission into a treatment program that has not revealed why I am admitted nor the name of the treating entity. As best I can describe, it is a Social Engineering effort involving friends, family and co-workers. Only this evening after one and a half years of it did I find an organization in Tennessee whose description fits my experience. It has involved electrical shock, brain washing, tasering and financial ruin. The attitude towards me by 'staff' is that of guard to prisoner but I am not incarcerated. It is an extremely clever program that is not all bad, but I keep returning to the fact that I did not consent to any of this. I have been unable to get an attorney to speak with me and I am trapped. If you do not think your rights can be taken away, think again.

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