Ho Chi Minh City administrators set up a committee to remand drug addicts to rehabilitation centers immediately after Vietnam's National Assembly gave them the green light to do so on Monday.
The city established the Committee to Implement a Plan on Managing Drug Users the same day and nominated Vice Mayor Hua Ngoc Thuan to chair it.
The committee will be staffed by district leaders from throughout the city.
The move aims to clear a bottleneck in the country's legal system that was created by a law that went into effect early this year, nominally to protect addicts from human rights abuses.
The law stipulated that drug offenders could only be sent to rehabilitation centers if and when they relapsed following the completion of a community-based rehab program.
The power to send them to rehab was taken from local people's committees and vested in district courts. But, district judges claimed they couldn't enforce the measure because they lacked the necessary guidelines on how to do so.
Following the green light from lawmakers and the central government, cities and provinces throughout Vietnam can detain drug users in transitional centers, while waiting for district courts to rule on whether or not they should be remanded to mandatory, long term rehab programs.
Thuan, vice chairman of the HCMC People's Committee, said the city will authorize the Binh Trieu Rehabilitation Center and the Nhi Xuan Employment and Vocational Training Center to hold drug users while they detox and await a ruling from a district judge.
“These two centers will house homeless drug addicts. They will also accept non-homeless drug addicts who are being remanded to the centers based on requests from their family members,” he said.
A methadone center in Ho Chi Minh City's District 8. Local authorities have reported that community rehabilitation has had little results. Photo: Minh Hung
According to Thuan, commune-level people’s committee chairmen can immediately begin remanding drug users to the two centers--each of which must create a space for a district-level judge to issue a ruling on whether the inmates will be sentenced to compulsory rehabilitation.
Tran Trung Dung, director of the HCMC Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said the new process would take 15-17 days.
HCMC currently has 14 rehabilitation and vocational training centers for drug addicts that employ 1,300 people.
These facilities are capable of meeting compulsory rehabilitation demands, Dung said.
Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam, chairwoman of the municipal legislature, said the city authorities began preparing to enact the new measure while awaiting approval from the National Assembly.
As such, they're ready to implement it straight away.
“It will cost about VND4 million (US$188) to house a drug user for 10 to 15 days at these centers. The city authorities should not skimp on this effort,” she said.
The city authorities have claimed a population of 19,000 drug users, Tam said, adding that the actual number may be even higher.
“[Sending them to rehab centers] will be a heavy task… But it is good that the city has maintained its compulsory rehab facilities and has experiences dealing with this issue.”
Hanoi authorities say the city has 80 centers that are ready to admit drug users once a district judge has given the order.
By September, the capital city reported 16,000 drug addicts -- 6,500 of whom lived at home and 1,000 of whom were described as homeless.
Dang Van Bat, deputy chairman of Hanoi Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, said that allowing drug addicts to remain in their communities had been promoted by advocates as a humane thing to do.
“In reality, it has been impossible to prevent them from causing public disturbances. They will be effectively treated at the centers,” he said.
Bat made no mention of any temporary holding or detox facilities and Hanoi police have been less local about the logjam that has stymied Ho Chi Minh City officials.