Police estimate that 500 drug-addicted gang members are actively threatening public security in Ho Chi Minh City.
“Robberies are increasing for many reasons, but the dominant reason is the high number of drug addicts,” said Lieutenant General Trieu Van Dat of the Ministry of Public Security.
Dat made his comments during a Monday meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and the city's authorities on crime control and prevention.
According to a municipal police survey, the city has about 19,000 drug users.
The survey suggested that the addict population increased by 7,000 since last year and noted that half are homeless.
“These are incomplete statistics because the survey could have missed 50-80 percent of them. The number of homeless drug addicts in HCMC is great and can’t be completely calculated,” said Major General Phan Anh Minh, deputy director of HCMC Police Department.
He said the trade and use of drugs in the city is increasing significantly.
“Many drug users form gangs that get high before going out on the street to rob,” he said.
Minh reported a total of 4,668 general crimes so far this year that resulted in 65 deaths and 572 injuries.
Drug busts are likewise on the rise, especially at Tan Son Nhat International Airport where customs officers have seized more than 11 kg cocaine, 4 kg heroin and 2 kg methamphetamine so far this year.
Police throw up their hands
During the meeting, relevant authorities complained that byzantine procedures have hindered their ability to send drug addicts to rehabilitation centers.
Last month, the Ministry of Public security reported that only 33 of the nation's 204,377 drug addicts had been sent to rehab between January and July due to holes in the current referral system.
Under the Law on Handling Administrative Violations, which took effect on January 1, repeat drug offenders must submit to compulsory drug rehabilitation for 1-2 years if they relapse after completing community rehabilitation.
The law transferred the power to send them to compulsory rehab from local People's Committees to district-level courts. However, those judges say they have not been made aware of the new regulation and have no way of implementing it without the proper guidance, which has yet to be issued.
Drug users have reportedly coerced park visitors into buying objects like bottle caps or bricks to raise money for their drug habit.
“Since the Law on Handling Administrative Violations took effect, ward-level police are no longer determined, and even hesitate, to file paperwork on public drug users,” said Maj. Gen. Minh.
“To be honest, some of these officers observe but ignore public drug use because the paperwork is too burdensome.”
According to Minh, the number of drug users that have been fined, for first-time drug offenses, fell by half since last year.
Cutting red tape
Vice Mayor Hua Ngoc Thuan admitted that the city hasn't sent a single drug user to a rehabilitation center since the Law on Handling Administrative Violations took effect early this year.
Meanwhile, the country lacks an official treatment plan for methamphetamine dependence, he said.
Thuan said it has been unable to send homeless drug users to social support centers while judges await guidance on remanding them to rehabilitation centers.
No organization have been assigned to the task of babysitting them in the meantime.
“City authorities will assign the social support centers with specific tasks, district courts will have to complete procedures and the Health Department will coordinate with local agencies to improve methadone therapy,” he said.
Thuan said the city authorities decided to disburse an additional of VND3.2 billion (US$150,500) to maintain the operation of methadone centers and recruit more employees for district and ward medical centers to improve community drug rehabilitation.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Phuc said problems involving drug users have become an urgent issue for many cities and provinces nationwide -- particularly HCMC.
“The government has recognized problems in enforcing the new law and has instructed relevant agencies to create preemptive solutions to ensure effective regulations can help drug users be admitted to rehabilitation [centers].”