Concerns grow over drug use in public spaces

By Duc Tien, Thanh Nien News

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A drug user injects himself in front of a primary school in Ho Chi Minh City on March 2, 2016. Photo: Duc Tien A drug user injects himself in front of a primary school in Ho Chi Minh City on March 2, 2016. Photo: Duc Tien

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Many intravenous drug users in Ho Chi Minh City are now shooting drugs publicly on downtown sidewalks, sometimes even in front of schools, Thanh Nien reporters have found. 
A man and a woman stopped their motorbike on Ton That Tung Street in District 1 on Wednesday afternoon. They started injecting themselves on the sidewalk, in front of many pedestrians. 
Around 20 minutes later, another woman came and sat down. A man turned up and began to mix some drugs. He then give himself and the woman each a shot. 
Thanh Nien reporters have approached the drug users and asked them if they were scared of police. 
“You can just do your shots here freely and don't have to worry at all,” a user said.
Some drug users, who used to hide deep inside parks, now do not even care if some children can see them. 
Thanh Nien reporters on Wednesday afternoon found two men stopping their motorbike on Hoang Sa Street in District 1 and injecting themselves in front of a primary school. 
A parent waiting to pick his child told Thanh Nien that drug shooting is a daily scene in front of the school, with syringes and needles scattered all over the place.
“We are very worried that this will send a wrong message to our children," the parent said. 
Since 2009 Vietnam has stopped treating drug users as criminals. They will receive a warning or a cash fine of up to VND1 million (US$45) if caught using drugs. 
Under current regulations, drug users will only be sent to compulsory rehabilitation centers if they relapse after completing so-called education programs, or if they are homeless.
Authorities estimate that 70 percent of injection drug users in the city are homeless.
Le Dong Phong, Ho Chi Minh City police chief, said at a meeting Tuesday that the city is still challenged by difficult procedures for sending drug users into rehabs.
Many drug users have walked out of voluntary rehab programs, officials said.

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