A survey on nearly 600 young Vietnamese drug users has found many of them starting to take heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine and ecstasy when they were just 12 or 13 years old.
The average age for young people in three of Vietnam’s biggest cities, Hanoi, Hai Phong and Ho Chi Minh City, to begin using drugs ranges from 16.4 to 17.3 years old, the Center of Supporting Community and Development Initiatives (SCDI) said at a meeting in Hanoi on March 10, citing its own study.
Some users, like Hanoi-based T.T.A., 19, began to be on drugs when he was only 12 years old.
“A. said he had been using drugs for six years when we first met him,” Nguyen Thuy Linh, an SCDI official, said.
“He knows clearly that his health is bad, but he has never been able to access any service that helps reduce the detrimental effects of addiction.”
The survey, polling 580 young men aged between 16 and 24, was the first-ever large-scale study to be conducted on those young Vietnamese who use heroin, marijuana, methamphetamine and ecstasy, according to the center.
Using drugs, most of these young people have a tendency to engage in group sex, which is associated with a high risk of HIV infection.
What is more worrisome is more and more young people are using methamphetamine, or crystal meth, in the false belief that this substance does not cause addiction.
Nearly 40 percent of the respondents admitted to using meth, according to SCDI director Khuat Thi Hai Oanh.
“In one locality, 17 percent of the respondents said they use crystal meth on a frequent basis, and in Ho Chi Minh City, nearly eight percent confessed they resort to it a few times a day,” Oanh added.
The young are increasingly reliant on crystal meth, the SCDI director said, adding that “34 percent of the junkies in Ho Chi Minh City said they always enjoy the drug alone” and up to 8.5 percent of the crystal meth users tend to have group sex.
The survey also found 22 percent of the drug users surveyed in Ho Chi Minh City to be involved in homosexual interactions and more than 50 percent to have at least two sexual partners. In both groups, most drug users do not use condoms during intercourse.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the ratio of young people aged from 16 to 24 to be infected with HIV for using drugs is as high as 12 percent, according to the survey. On the overall scale, 6.3 percent of the 580 respondents are living with HIV.
Speaking at the Hanoi meeting, Bui Duc Thiem, deputy head of the anti-drug police unit, said crystal meth users have been getting increasingly younger in the last few years, with some starting to take the drug at the age of 15 or 16.
“Most of those users hold a misconception that using crystal meth is cool and that it is not an addictive drug,” Thiem said.
Oanh noted that most of the young drug users in her survey have yet to become much reliant on drugs so they can still be “saved.”
“Most of them are from unhappy families and have problems growing up, so we have to start from their families to be able to ‘save’ them,” Oanh said.
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