Challenges still lie ahead in the expansion of the methadone treatment programme, since only 27 percent of the 80,000 drug users targeted until 2015 received access to this form of therapy.

The slow implementation of the programme, unfavourable administrative formalities, a shortage of human resources, and a reduction in funding are some of the major obstacles, Director of the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Department under the Ministry of Health, Nguyen Hoang Long, said.

Tran Thanh Thang, a representative of the Vietnam Network for People who Use Drugs (VNPUD), said it was difficult for drug users to access methadone treatment in fear of social discrimination and occupational loss. Additionally, many treatment facilities are predominantly located in the country’s major cities, he explained.

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long said the ministry would request the National Committee for AIDS, Drugs and Prostitution Prevention and Control to identify specific targets for each locality, diversify treatment services, and encourage the private sector to join the campaign.

Besides, legal framework needs to be reviewed and finetuned, the involvement of civil society organisations should be encouraged, and the administrative procedures for drug users who register to receive treatment reduced, Long suggested.

The Vietnamese State will support local authorities in developing models to distribute medication via communal health centres in mountainous regions, he said.

Methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) has been carried out in more than 80 countries and territories for years, benefitting over 1 million drug users.

The programme was initially piloted in Hai Phong and Ho Chi Minh City in 2008, and then expanded to 32 cities and provinces nationwide, with more than 17,500 patients being treated in 92 clinics.

After a 12-month treatment course, the percentage of patients at high risk of depression drops to 15 percent from 80 percent. Many gain weight and see their physical and mental health stabilise. Meanwhile, the crime rate amongst drug users sinks to 1.3 percent from 40.8 percent, according to the Ministry of Health.-VNA