Cold turkey at Vietnam’s compulsory drug rehab centers

This picture taken on November 2, 2017 shows staff handing a dose of methadone to a recovering drug addict at a treatment clinic in the northern city of Bac Giang. During four years of compulsory rehab in Vietnam, Trung spent his drug-free days gluing together false eyelashes as part of what authorities billed as valuable 'work therapy' for his heroin addiction. But critics say the work of Trung and tens of thousands of others is tantamount to forced labour that rarely helps users extinguish their addiction. (AFP)
Updated 11 December 2017
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Cold turkey at Vietnam’s compulsory drug rehab centers

HAIPHONG, Vietnam: During four years of compulsory rehab in Vietnam, Trung spent his drug-free days gluing together false eyelashes as part of what authorities billed as valuable ‘work therapy’ for his heroin addiction.
But critics say the work of Trung and tens of thousands of others is tantamount to forced labor that rarely helps users extinguish their addiction.
Police sent Trung to a state-sponsored rehab center on the outskirts of Hanoi, one of 132 in Vietnam, where he says he faced routine beatings from guards and hours of labor for nominal pay.
“Life there, from eating, to walking, to sleeping, to working — there was no human rights at all,” explained the 50-year-old, who first began using drugs some three decades ago.
He started using again soon after his release in 2014 — up to 80 percent of addicts from the centers relapse, according to official figures.
Trung’s labor therapy has since been replaced by a daily shot of methadone from a government-run drop-in clinic, which he insists is the only effective treatment he’s had.
Today he says he is keeping the addiction at bay, and is trying to mend ties with his only son.
Between 2014 and 2016 more than 65,000 addicts cycled through the centers, usually a mix of compulsory patients sent by police with those admitted by exasperated relatives.
Sometimes they house other marginal groups — the mentally ill and disabled, the homeless, the elderly — along with addicts like Trung, who support the treatment model on paper even if they resent the abuse inside.
Most will stay for one or two years, or up to four if they are deemed unfit for release, and are subject to a range of daily labor — from farming cashews to making sportswear for Western clothing brands, which they can sometimes earn a meagre salary from.
Rights groups accuse officials at the centers of skimming from those salaries or pocketing boarding fees paid by some users’ families, and say addicts are detained against their will.
“These are a failure in terms of drug treatment, but they’re incredibly successful in terms of generating money for government functionaries who run the centers,” said Richard Pearshouse, an associate director at Human Rights Watch who authored a report about the facilities.
Though similar centers exist throughout Asia, experts say the term length and the sheer number of facilities in Vietnam set it apart.
Conditions inside vary widely, though several overcrowded centers have experienced mass breakouts.
The government has acknowledged the need to reform the facilities and has softened drug policies, piloting community-based treatment and methadone clinics.
“Vietnamese laws and regulations are being perfected, especially when it comes to drug rehabilitation and treatment, to consider drug addicts patients,” said Le Thanh Tung, director of the Department of Social Evils Prevention in Hai Phong city.
The center houses some 500 addicts — mostly admitted by relatives — who after an initial period of cold turkey withdrawal behind padlocked doors are moved to dorm rooms.
Once clean, they are put to work sewing shoes or tending vegetable gardens and can receive vocational training as electricians or carpenters.
Many in Vietnam think the scheme is a good thing.
“Drug addicts do nothing good for the family or the community, they should be locked away,” said Ms Luong, mother of two heroin-addicted sons.
“When you have a drug addict in your house, you live in hell. I have two as such,” she told AFP in tears.
Her sons used to pawn her furniture to fund their habit, prompting her to send one to a rehab center. She kicked the other out and hasn’t seen him in years.
Like most of the 200,000 registered drug addicts in Vietnam, her sons were hooked on heroin, though methamphetamines are increasingly popular among Vietnam’s youth.
Several organizations are trying to roll out community-based care to allow recovering addicts to lead normal lives, and even keep steady work.
But some programs have struggled to gain traction.
“The number one obstacle for us is the lack of awareness about how complex addiction treatment is, people want to have a silver bullet,” said Oanh Khuat, executive director of the Center for Supporting Community Development Initiatives (SCDI), an NGO that promotes voluntary and community-based programs.
That approach is one that heroin addict Quan thinks could work for him.
He spent three months and nearly $900 on a voluntary program — another rehab option run by the government — hoping for better treatment he might have received at a compulsory center.
But he quickly started using again after he left.
“The rehab model in Vietnam isn’t efficient,” the chain-smoking 46-year-old told AFP.
He’s home again with his family, but jobless and getting high every day.
“We see no help, nothing from the local authorities,” he said. “They have always created trouble for me, supervising me as if I was a criminal.”


World’s oldest bread found at prehistoric site in Jordan

Updated 17 July 2018
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World’s oldest bread found at prehistoric site in Jordan

WASHINGTON: Charred remains of a flatbread baked about 14,500 years ago in a stone fireplace at a site in northeastern Jordan have given researchers a delectable surprise: people began making bread, a vital staple food, millennia before they developed agriculture.
No matter how you slice it, the discovery detailed on Monday shows that hunter-gatherers in the Eastern Mediterranean achieved the cultural milestone of bread-making far earlier than previously known, more than 4,000 years before plant cultivation took root.
The flatbread, likely unleavened and somewhat resembling pita bread, was fashioned from wild cereals such as barley, einkorn or oats, as well as tubers from an aquatic papyrus relative, that had been ground into flour.
It was made by a culture called the Natufians, who had begun to embrace a sedentary rather than nomadic lifestyle, and was found at a Black Desert archaeological site.
“The presence of bread at a site of this age is exceptional,” said Amaia Arranz-Otaegui, a University of Copenhagen postdoctoral researcher in archaeobotany and lead author of the research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Arranz-Otaegui said until now the origins of bread had been associated with early farming societies that cultivated cereals and legumes. The previous oldest evidence of bread came from a 9,100-year-old site in Turkey.
“We now have to assess whether there was a relationship between bread production and the origins of agriculture,” Arranz-Otaegui said. “It is possible that bread may have provided an incentive for people to take up plant cultivation and farming, if it became a desirable or much-sought-after food.”
University of Copenhagen archaeologist and study co-author Tobias Richter pointed to the nutritional implications of adding bread to the diet. “Bread provides us with an important source of carbohydrates and nutrients, including B vitamins, iron and magnesium, as well as fiber,” Richter said.
Abundant evidence from the site indicated the Natufians had a meat- and plant-based diet. The round floor fireplaces, made from flat basalt stones and measuring about a yard (meter) in diameter, were located in the middle of huts.
Arranz-Otaegui said the researchers have begun the process of trying to reproduce the bread, and succeeded in making flour from the type of tubers used in the prehistoric recipe. But it might have been an acquired taste.
“The taste of the tubers,” Arranz-Otaegui said, “is quite gritty and salty. But it is a bit sweet as well.”