Albion Monitor /News

Vietnamese Drug Use a 'National Disaster'

by Nguyen Phan Phuong

(IPS) HANOI -- From officials involved in the narcotics trade to widespread addiction among students, a drug culture has invaded Vietnamese society to the point that state-run media say it borders on being a quoc nan or "national disaster."

The authorities link the upsurge of drug abuse to a rampant narcotics trade at Vietnam's northern borders with Laos and China, and have began a crackdown that has led to the arrest of an official in the interior ministry and a border guard.

"I sniff several small capsules of heroin per day," a sixth grader said

According to judicial officials, since the beginning of this year, there has been 29 percent increase in drug-related crimes. Officials estimate put the number of drug addicts in Vietnam today at 200,000 compared to 150,000 in 1993 -- 70 percent of them under 30 years of age.

With surveys showing that a high incidence of drug abuse among teenagers, authorities have gone as far as to introduce urine tests at some schools where there are unusually high rates of truancy, and where students are prone to rude behaviour or are inattentive in the classroom.

Such tests were recently carried out by the health service of northern Lang Son province, and found that seven percent of the students tested positive for drug use.

Some students started using heroin from as young as nine years old, according to a recent survey carried out by the "Anti-Social Evil" department in Lang Son, a major border crossing point with China in Vietnam's north-east.

The surveys carried out last September found that in Hanoi, more than 230 junior and senior secondary students were "seriously addicted" to heroin, 106 in Lang Son and 87 in Quang Ninh in central Vietnam.

Many of the student addicts are from relatively well-off families, who said they bought their drugs from street vendors. Small packages of heroin, containing 20 grammes of the drug, now are readily available on the streets of the capital at a selling price of 20,000 to 30,000 dongs (two to three dollars).

Surveyed students reported spending five to ten dollars a day on drugs -- more money than the daily earnings of the average Vietnamese.

"I sniff several small capsules of heroin per day," a sixth grader at Hanoi's Nguyen Cong Tru school told a local newspaper. "I buy it at a snack shop at my school near the Chau Long market. I use heroin in order to forget about everyday life."

Drug traffickers have even managed to infiltrate the interior ministry

Authorities say the root of the problem starts at its northern porous borders with China and Laos, with Vietnam being used as a transit point for overland traffic to satisfy demand in China's southern Yunnan province -- a hotbed of drug abuse.

The Vietnamese authorities have sent a strong signal to traffickers that Hanoi is serious about stamping out the trade by handing down death sentences to 20 traffickers -- including foreigners -- since the National Assembly introduced capital punishment for the offence in 1992.

But the potential profit to be made in the trade nonetheless remains a lure for traffickers who have even managed to infiltrate the interior ministry.

One package (0.7 kg) of heroin can be bought for $8,000 in Lai Chau near the border with Laos, can be sold for $12,000 to 14,000 in Hanoi and between 19,000 and 25,000 dollars in southern China.

The involvement of the interior ministry official in question, 36- year-old Vu Xuan Truong, came to light in July when his Laotian accomplice, in seeking a stay of execution, revealed his identity.

Thirty-year-old Sieng Phenh from northern Laos had been arrested last year in Hanoi with 15 kilograms of heroin and was subsequently sentenced to death.

Just 30 minutes before the actual execution by firing squad was about to take place, he implicated Truong. Police raided the official's home and found five kilograms of heroin and $85,000 in cash. Until 1993, Truong was a policeman in northern Lai Chau province, close to Phongsali province.

Vietnamese police made another breakthrough in this particular drug ring last month, with the arrest of Capt. Bui Danh Canh, deputy commander of Tay Trang border guard post in Lai Chau province.

Police are now concentrating on breaking another drug ring operating in central Vietnam, which is also reported to be fed through connections in Laos. Since the start of the year, police there have made several arrests and confiscated 225 kgs of raw opium.

But, say officials, that is only the tip of the iceberg.

In Vietnam alone, raw opium production is estimated at 13 tons and in Laos 120,000.

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Albion Monitor November 19, 1996 (

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