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Viet Nam confronts growing drug problem

Update: December, 15/2014 - 09:28

Dealing with drug addiction

Luong Minh Tuan, lawyer, former drug addict

There are drug addicts who do not have the will to quit drugs. Society will be at risk if those addicts are allowed to choose whether to go to rehab centres. In this case, the authorities' intervention is necessary and compulsory rehab centres are helpful.

However, the government should review the management of the rehab centres. It has gotten much better now but during my time in those centres until 2012, I witnessed officials beating up drug addicts in the centres.

I also doubt that the drug addicts can avoid relapse after rehab. I myself was in and out of rehab three times from 2007 to 2012, for a total of 21 months. The only available treatment there was physical treatment. I could not have any psychological consultation or guidance to help me deal with my psychological dependence after being discharged from the centre.

How will drug addiction affect tourism?

Lainey Freels, female, American

If drug addiction is not dealt with, addicts who are mentally unstable and homeless may have to resort to actions such as crime. I believe that HCM City will need to address this, building more drug rehabilitation centers, homeless shelters and policies to help those who are addicted to drugs. If nothing is done, the city might gain a reputation for crime—it already has one among foreigners, i.e., that you have to be careful with your bags—and this can possibly lead to less tourism.

Frances Massing, female, Australian

I think drug addiction will cause more theft in the city. Tourists who become victims will share these bad stories to their friends and families at home and reduce the amount of tourists visiting Viet Nam. It will also make visiting the city less enjoyable. I suggest HCM City to my friends; however, I always warn them to be careful of their bags, phones, cameras and belongings. — VNS

A recent NA decision allows addicts to be kept at detoxification centres before being sent to compulsory rehabilitation centres. But this is just one step in fighting addiction, Centre for Psychological Studies and Support to Drug Users director Le Trung Tuan told Viet Nam News.

What do you think of the recent National Assembly decision that paves the way for sending more drug addicts without stable residence to compulsory rehabilitation centres?

In my opinion, it is an essential step in the short term to solve the drug addict problem and ensure safety for society. Compulsory rehabilitation centres are helpful as they can keep and treat drug addicts, many of whom have unfortunately fallen into the state of losing their dignity and ethics because of drug addiction.

Those addicts dare to steal, rob and even murder just to gain some money to buy drugs. They pose serious security risks to society.

However, in the long term, we need a more comprehensive approach to solve the problem, as the relapse rate in Viet Nam is currently over 90 percent. There is a cycle where drug addicts are sent to rehab centres, then get out and relapse.

What should we do to lower the relapse rate?

First, we have to divide the addicts that go to the rehab centres into two groups: positive and negative. The positive group will include drug addicts who are aware of the dangers of drug usage and really want to break their bond with drugs. On the other hand, drug addicts in the so-called negative group do not have the will to stop using drugs and are forced to go to rehab by their families or authorities. Positive and negative groups should not be put under the same roof. Authorities have asked rehab centres to divide addicts accordingly but many of them failed to do so.

Another problem lies in our treatment methods. To treat drug addiction successfully, we have to combine both physical and psychological treatment. Rehab centres do a good job with the former but pay little attention to the latter. That explains why most drug addicts relapse a short time after getting out of rehab.

I have met many drug addicts who did not know why they relapsed quickly after being discharged from rehab. It turned out they were treated only for physical dependence and not for psychological dependence. As soon as an ex-drug user sees an old drug buddy or comes by a place where he previously bought drugs, his craving is immediately triggered and leads him to relapse.

Physical dependence symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating and bone pain last from one week to 30 days, or even 12 months in rare cases. However, psychological dependence can last five to 10 years if untreated.

The authorities are becoming strict about sending drug addicts to rehab centres, which are seen as the "treatment stage" in the fight against drug addiction. But how is Viet Nam doing in the "preventive stage"?

Unfortunately, Viet Nam is losing on all three battlefields of the preventive stage: reducing drug supply, drug usage and drugs' harm to society.

In the northern region, 64 per cent of drug users are of working age and 18 per cent are under working age, according to a recent survey by our centre.

We always talk about how to raise public awareness about drug usage, but the fact is, our communication lacks a clear direction. Many newspaper articles describe the feeling of being high instead of warning about the dangers of drug usage. Many banners say drugs are not children's toys. That kind of communication campaign does nothing but encourage children to try drugs. Another survey of 1,100 students proved this point as the results showed that the students felt more curious about drugs after reading those articles and banners.

Now, there is a new drug risk for the authorities to confront: the increasing use of methaphetamine among adolescents. If the authorities do not take this seriously, I reckon that there will be a society disaster two years from now, given the current rate of young adults using meth. — VNS



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