Vietnam is looking at reducing the level of reliance on compulsory treatments for drug addicts in favour of promoting the role of community support groups and other psychological assistance, Deputy Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs minister Nguyen Trong Dam said yesterday.
"For the past 20 years, we have focused mostly on sending drug addicts to rehabilitation centres. Now we can do much better in providing additional support to help them integrate with society," he said.
"With support from international organisations and other partners, we have enough evidence now to know that drug addiction is a chronic medical disease related to the brain and that treatment requires a long-term process."
The forum was organised ahead of the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, which falls on Wednesday (also Vietnam's national People's Anti-Drug Day).
Dam Huu Dac, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Elderly Association, said for many years society had considered drug addiction to be a "social evil," leading to many families forcing their drug addicted relatives to conceal their problems."They would not choose to send their children to drug treatment centres publicly because of the associated stigma and some might feel that our treatment centres were operated like detention centres," he said.
Dac called on the Government to focus on encouraging the establishment of a drug treatment model at community level, and for private entities to invest in treatment centres in neighbourhoods across the country.
Zhuldyz Akisheva, country manager of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vietnam, said the UN estimated that there are about 315 million drug addicts globally and one of the rising concerns is the increasing availability of new types of drugs, such as novel psychoactive substances (also known as "legal highs").Akisheva said UNODC had been working closely with the Vietnamese government for the past 20 years, especially in eliminating the growing of opium and fighting drug trafficking.
She said the UNODC had been running programmes with the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, among others, to deal with the abuse of drugs, stressing the need to approach drug treatment from a health perspective.
As someone who used drugs for 10 years and is currently working to support drug addicts, Huynh Nhu Thanh Huyen, a representative from VNP+ (Vietnam Network of People Living with HIV) in the south, said she hoped that the new approach would ease the stigma that drug addicts have to bear while undergoing treatment."Most of the programmes at rehabilitation centres (referred to as centres 06) only focus on treatments that may stop addicts from entering their lapses or on encouraging them to stay in the centres. They do not provide training for family members to support the ex-addicts psychologically at home."
Huyen said the important task was also to encourage closer co-operation among state health agencies and social organisations.
According to Dam, currently there are about 17 private drug treatment centres nationwide but most of them also operate under the same method as the state-owned centres and lack the ability to provide psychological support and other services.
"The goal now is to promote drug treatment at community level, which allows addicts to continue living in their own community and receive health and social support," he said.
Akisheva conceded that there was no such thing as one perfect model, but said the UN encouraged the use of social organisations, which could provide medical treatment and psychological support, vocational training and employment assistance.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Public Security, Vietnam currently has about 171,400 registered drug addicts.Huyen said that drug users did not always know the best option open for them and were often worried about the future. "As someone who used drugs before, I believe that most of the drug addicts want to undergo treatment but they fear of being controlled and discriminated. Even if they get jobs, they are fearful that the authorities will ask about whether they could fall into relapse," she said.
Dam said the new reform project would also focus on providing better legal assistance allowing drug addicts to benefit from simplified procedures at treatment centres and increased access to health services.
He argued that a greater focus on methadone treatment was important.
The country currently has about 60 centres nationwide providing methadone and aims at giving as many as 80,000 drug addicts access to methadone treatment by 2015.