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Junkies in southern Vietnam turn addictive medicine into their drugs

Thursday, April 16, 2015, 15:05 GMT+7
Junkies in southern Vietnam turn addictive medicine into their drugs
A junkie is shown concocting Di-Angesic into a drug-like mixture in front of a post office in Tieu Can District, located in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh.

An increasing number of addicts and young people in several Mekong Delta provinces have concocted an addictive oral medicine into a hazardous form of drugs, leaving them highly prone to shock and death.

Junkies and the youth in such provinces as Tra Vinh, Tien Giang, and Dong Thap now tend to get high on Di-Angesic, an addictive yet common painkiller.

Several users have died from shock resulting from their newly acquired addiction.

Last month, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters made field trips to several junkies’ hotspots in Tieu Can District, located in Tra Vinh Province, which is considered by local police officers to be the locality’s first “rendezvous” frequented by users of Di-Angesic.

Several youngsters were seen gathering in the yard of a post office, not far from the district’s Cau Quan Town.

Its lawns, wall bases, and tubs of ornamental plants were riddled with used needles and empty packs of Di-Angesic.

Some walked away at the sight of strangers, while others defiantly stayed put, reminding each other that they were doing nothing wrong by injecting a type of medicine.

A man named Hoang, who once spent time at a rehabilitation center, was spotted concocting the mixture near the main entrance to the post office.

The man removed 40 Di-Angesic capsules from their packs and poured their contents into a small jar of boiled water before dropping a cigarette filter into the jar.

As the water subsided, Hoang pointed the needle right into the cigarette butt and “skillfully” sucked the mixture into the cylinder.

“It’s easy as child’s play, you’ll get high instantly following the injection,” he bragged.

Kim tiêm và vỏ thuốc Di-Angesic nằm dày đặc trong một ngôi chùa tại trung tâm thị trấn Càng Long - Ảnh: Sơn Bình)

Used needles and empty packs of Di-Angesic are seen outside a pagoda in the heart of Cang Long Town in Tra Vinh Province. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Hoang is one of the seasoned junkies in the locality.

“As we used heroin before, we are less susceptible to shock. Fledgling users are much more prone to shock, which can be severe enough to kill them. Two did die from using the substance,” he divulged.

The man noted that addicts generally gather in groups and always have lemons on them. They will make lemon juice and gulp it down as a first-aid trick in case of shock from overdose.

A cemetery which is a stone’s throw from the heart of Tieu Can District is also a haunt of Di-Angesic abusers.

As observed by Tuoi Tre reporters, the tombs’ tops were also littered with used needles and Di-Angesic packs.

Many tattoo-covered addicts, whose limbs got swollen from shots, were lurking around then.

One of them, Duoc, who currently ekes out his living by running errands at a construction site, admitted to having injected concoctions made from addictive capsules for over two years now.

“I’m not a junkie, but was enticed by my friends into using Di-Angesic for the ecstatic bouts it brings. I have cut down on my doses following some users’ deaths, however,” he revealed.

The same situation applies to a deserted pagoda, located in the province’s Cang Long District.

According to a local police officer, they usually collect large sacks of used needles and Di-Angesic packs.

Một thanh niên đang pha chế thuốc Di-Angesic tại bưu điện thị trấn Cầu Quan, huyện Tiểu Cần, tỉnh Trà Vinh - Ảnh: Sơn Bình)

A junkie is seen concocting Di-Angesic into a drug-like mixture in front of a post office in Tieu Can District, located in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Readily available, difficulty in tackling

According to Lieutenant Colonel Le Van Viet, of the Tra Vinh Police Department, many people, mostly aged between 18 and 30, are abusing Di-Angesic.

Users of the substance said the capsules are easily available at most average drugstores.

Police in several districts currently have difficulty tackling such medicine injectors due to a lack of specific regulations stipulating how to cope with addicts of substances other than drugs, though their urine samples test positive for drugs.

Tuoi Tre reporters’ observations lasting several days have also revealed the astonishing availability of Di-Angesic.

Attendants at the pharmacies the reporters dropped by were all willing to sell the capsules if they did not run out of stock.

Representatives of Tieu Can District’s police told Tuoi Tre that though they detected a number of Di-Angesic users in 2011, such abuse did not grow into a fad until 2013.

“We learned of some fatalities from Di-Angesic overdose, but could not keep records of them, as the victims’ families purposefully kept us in the dark about the deaths and buried them prematurely,” an officer said.

Police officers in Tien Giang and Ben Tre Provinces also acknowledged the rampant abuse of Di-Angesic and other pre-drug concocted addictives in their provinces, and called for better administration of such substances.

Readily-concocted Di-Angesic in needle cylinders. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Highly perilous if used improperly

Trang Nhon Duc, of Tra Vinh Province’s Department of Health, pointed out that injecting Di-Angesic is highly hazardous and even life-threatening.

He added that Di-Angesic has two subgroups.

One of them, which contains an addictive called dextropropoxyphene, has been banned from circulation due to its questionable safety.

The subgroup currently common on the local market is Di-Angesic Codein 30mg.

Overdose of these capsules can lead to failed respiratory functions, loss of consciousness, tissue softness, coldness, slackened pulses, and low blood pressure.

In severe cases, the victim’s respiratory functions, pulses and heart activity will shut down altogether, resulting in their death.

When the capsules, intended for oral consumption, are improperly concocted and injected into users, chances of overdose and fatality are high.      Meanwhile, To Anh Chieu, chief inspector of Tra Vinh Province’s Department of Health, affirmed that the sale of Di-Angesic is strictly controlled as medicine with addictives.

The capsules are supposed to be sold by prescription only, but attendants at many drugstores are not reluctant to sell the medicine for its high profitability.

They typically offer 20-capsule boxes at VND50,000 (US$2.5) each though their actual cost is around one-fifth of the amount.

Chieu underlined that it remains a challenge to catch such drugstores red-handed.

Only when addicts pinpoint the drugstores where they bought the capsules from to police officers can relevant agencies impose fines on violating pharmacy owners.

The provincial inspectorate has only slapped fines of VND15 million ($699) on two retailers of these capsules for selling them to ineligible users so far.

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