Two tattooed men squatted on a pedestrian overpass in front of the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital, pushing heroin into their arms.
A banner calling on citizens to join the fight against drugs hung over their heads.
Once high, the pair left their syringes and razor blades on the ground.
Police say that Ho Chi Minh City's drug addicts have grown brazen due to a glitch in the implementation of new laws regarding their detention and treatment.
“They gather here and shoot up every day,” a woman said as she immediately turned around to head back across an overpass after encountering a pile of bloody syringes. "Most of us are terrified of using the bridge."
A person caring for a family member at the hospital said pedestrians prefer to brave the dense traffic.
“I'm afraid I'll step on one of those needles if I use the overpass.”
Thanh Nien reporters have photographed drug users shooting up in parks, in front of hospitals and on pedestrian flyovers. They have also seen them using on the concrete dividers that split major streets.
On the afternoon of July 17, a large group of drug addicts leaned, nodding, against the wall outside the Oncology Hospital on No Trang Long Street, steps away from a busy intersection in Binh Thanh District.
Pedestrians pretended to ignore the men and women injecting themselves with syringes and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.
On July 19, reporters patrolling the base of an overpass on Vo Van Kiet Street, found mounds of blood-stained syringes and needles stuffed into tree planters.
“They shoot up here day and night," a female food vendor said. "It's very crowded at night.”
“Some are struck by sudden cravings and they stop their motorbikes right on the street and shoot up," she said. "Then they just recklessly take off into traffic."
In the same afternoon, a skinny woman was photographed mixing and drawing a solution from a bottle cap at the base of a nearby overpass.
She injected two shots into her arm and nodded at the site for ten minutes before leaving.
Frequent militia patrols through September 23rd park outside Ben Thanh market have failed to deter drug addicts from passing out on the benches after shooting up.
Some were seen washing out their syringes and stashing them at the base of trees for later use.
"We just cannot stop the problem. When we’re done with these users, more others will come up," Nguyen Van Ba, a Ho Chi Minh City police officer
Nguyen Van Ba, a deputy ward police chief in Binh Thanh District who is in charge of the area around the oncology hospital, said they have caught nine users this year and passed them to their local authorities to handle.
“But we just cannot stop the problem. When we’re done with these users, more others will come up,” Ba said.
A new Law on Handling Administrative Violations took effect on January 1, transferring the power to send drug addicts to compulsory rehabilitation programs from the local police departments to district-level courts. Judges only received government guidance on implementing the law very recently.
A police officer in Go Vap District said that for months, he and his fellow officers have only issued cash fines to drug addicts and encouraged them to seek methadone treatment at local health centers.
He doubted the effectiveness of the community-based treatment programs and asked that his name not be published.
Truong Lam Danh, a senior legal official from the city legislature, said that less than ten people from the city signed up for voluntary rehab programs this year.
Danh said ward and commune authorities are responsible for managing drug addicts in their area, but the truth is “they aren't capable.”
The circumstances have led to the “worrisome” use of drugs in broad daylight, he said.
The city’s social affairs department has been ordered to ask the central government for more suitable rehabilitation options, such as re-instituting the right of law enforcement agencies to detain drug users until they can be sent to compulsory rehab centers.
Danh also suggested that the authorities think of more effective measures to help discharged addicts reintegrate into the community, citing a lack of viable employment programs.