Involuntary Drug Rehabilitation in Vietnam

In a country notorious for its draconian voluntary drug rehabilitation centers, Vietnam is beginning to show rudimentary signs of change. The emergence from its proverbial “black box” implies Vietnam’s move towards something resembling harm reduction policies with the opening of new involuntary, community-based rehabilitation centers.

This change comes after a delegation of 23 senior government officials travelled to Malaysia with the purpose of observing the “Care and Cure” system in place. These officials were responding to criticisms from around the world, including Human Rights Watch, surrounding forced rehabilitation labor camps for drug users. There has also been a shockingly sharp rise in HIV infections among injecting drug users, something that the international community has not failed to miss.

In December 2012, the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MoLISA) launched several new involuntary programs with a focus on community rehabilitation. According to MoLISA, Vietnam currently boasts 121 state-owned voluntary rehabilitation centers for illicit drug users, as well as 20 post-detoxification management centers. Now, almost a year after suggested reforms were implemented, it was estimated that 16,000 of the 35,000 drug users attending these centers were no longer using drugs.

The Department for Social Evil Prevention, operating under MoLISA, still estimates that the number of drug users coming to detoxification centers is low compared to the country’s total number of estimated drug users, which currently stands at 171,400 people. It is unclear as to why the number of drug users attending involuntary clinic remain static when drug use is estimated to be increasing according to some.

Despite somewhat discouraging figures, a step away from involuntary rehabilitation centers towards a community-based rehabilitation system should not be dismissed. In a region such as Southeast Asia, where draconian policies are the norm, Vietnam should be applauded for taking initial steps towards humanitarian drug policies.