Vietnam Officials Slam 'Failure' Of Community-Based Drug Treatment

By McCarton Ackerman 07/29/14

Despite offering a cheap way for addicts to get clean, Vietnam's first community-based treatment center has seen most of its patients drop out.

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Treatment counselor in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo via

With an overwhelming number of dropouts in Vietnam’s first voluntary drug rehab center and drug-related crimes on the rise, Vietnam officials have slammed community-based treatment as a “failure.”

Approximately 75% of those who enrolled in the the Drug Addiction Treatment and Consultancy Center offered by Ho Chi Minh City's social affairs department have dropped out, with only six people graduating from the three-month program. The facility is much cheaper than private rehab centers in Vietnam at a cost of roughly $585 for the entire program, with amenities that are considered five-star including a gym and karaoke area.

Approximately 60% of patients at the center only sign up for a 15-day program, which is just enough time to overcome physical cravings, but many haven’t even survived that and have fled the facility. Some have attempted to enroll again, but those who haven’t gotten clean after several attempts are turned away by the director of the center.

“They aren’t determined to get clean, so it’s only a waste of money and effort,” said Le Van Quy, director of the center. “In many cases, we’re a hundred percent sure they will relapse, but there’s nothing we can do. I feel tormented.”

Officials in Ho Chi Minh City also have their hands tied by new laws that prevent them from sending criminal addicts to compulsory rehab centers. They believe that not only has drug crime risen as a result, but that those statistics will only get worse as 4,000 patients are set to be discharged from compulsory rehab centers throughout the city, or nearly 45% of the total population.

Families who can’t afford to put loved ones in rehab will often give them methadone instead, but methadone users will now have to pay around 50 cents per dose starting next year, plus the cost of health examination fees. This has led to concerns about a rise in heroin use throughout the country.

“Methadone is not a magic wand. Drug addiction is a mental disease and it only takes a small hit to knock the patients off track,” said Dr. Nguyen Van Hoi, head of the District 6 methadone center in Ho Chi Minh. “They only need to argue with family members or feel a little disrespected to fall back into addiction.”

Because of this, many government officials believe compulsory rehabs are the only viable option for keeping addicts away from their drugs of choice and in an environment where they can focus on getting clean.

“[Compulsory rehab] only isolates addicts from the environment where they can use drugs, and not the community as a whole. Their families and friends can still visit them often,” said Nguyen Thanh Thai, former chairman of the Ho Chi Minh government. “It’s not acceptable to depend largely on community-based voluntary rehabilitation, especially when the related laws, staff and facilities aren't ready.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.