Drug abuse and HIV have increasingly crippled an idyllic poor countryside area in central Vietnam for years, turning many of its industrious residents into mere addicts and casting a pall of sorrow and anxiety onto local life.
Uneducated and jobless, young people in different villages in Tien Canh Commune of Quang Nam Province gravitated to gold mines to make money as laborers many years ago but many ended up addicted to drugs or lying as moribund HIV sufferers.
One of them is N., who has been living the last days of his life in isolation from neighbors at his mother’s house after realizing he had been infected with the disease.
“These days he’s constantly coughing up blood,” the mother in her 60s sadly said.
“He vomited as soon as I fed him a spoon of rice porridge. I don’t know when he’s going to die.”
The widow said her son had got married before working hard in a gold mine and earning money for the family, but some time later he looked vastly different.
Pressing him for answers, his wife felt stunned to know that he was using drugs, which at the time were consumed by only a few households in their greenery-covered village in Tien Canh, the mother recalled.
The women rested assured that he would wean himself off drugs, something they believed to be like cigarettes, so they let him resume the job in the gold mine.
But one night in 2009, the man, gaunt and haggard, suddenly kneeled down before the mother and hugged her leg in an act of teary confession.
“He told me to just think him already dead because he had got HIV. He’s crying, so was I. That’s the only thing we could do then,” the mother recollected.
Two years later, the son was involved in drug trading and imprisoned but released home due to severely ill health.
His wife left the house, leaving the mother single-handedly raising his two children since.
To Tien Canh residents, night tranquility is associated with fear.
Tran Van Huu, a local official, said at twilight many families have to close the gate and protect their house with several locked doors at the same entrance against would-be burglars who are amongst wandering drug addicts.
Adults have to hurriedly return home and children are kept inside after sundown, Huu said.
Stealing has been rampant in this rural area, the official underlined, as many of its enclosures for cattle and poultry are now empty.
Huu said in his village alone, 27 drug addicts have been reported, amongst whom were the husband, wife and children in the same family.
The households thrived financially thanks to working in a gold mine and were able to purchase a car but only the following year they went from riches to rags as all was sold for buying drugs.
He estimated the 27 addicts spend around VND3 billion (US$129,000) annually, with their daily sum of VND300,000 ($13) on drugs.
Le Truong Hien, chairman of the Tien Canh administration, said the drug issue is thorny and chronic.
The administration in Quang Nam has stepped up to the plate but failed to solve the problem once and for all because new addicts simply appear while long-time ones remain, Hien clarified.
“It’s impossible to end the drug scourge completely in Tien Canh. It can be contained only,” Nguyen Van Dang, the commune’s police chief, said.
The commune has become a drug hotspot that is receiving close attention from the entire provincial government, said Nguyen Van Cu, leader of a local district police department.
The ill started between 2001 and 2002, when people across Vietnam rushed to local mountainous gold mines as manual workers and were given drugs by employers as a stimulant for greater productiveness.