Hundreds of drug addicts break out of Vietnam rehabilitation centre, police hunt underway

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnamese police were hunting on Monday (Oct 24) for hundreds of drug addicts who escaped from a compulsory rehabilitation centre, with some using sticks and fire extinguishers to break out.

The communist government decrees up to two years of forced rehabilitation at government centres to try to reduce drug use. Rights groups have denounced poor conditions at the facilities and mass escapes occur periodically.

More than 500 addicts broke out of a centre in the southern province of Dong Nai late on Sunday (Oct 23), leaving the centre in a shambles after smashing through concrete walls and windows and breaking down doors.

The escapees flooded onto nearby roads, according to footage in local media, prompting officials to urge residents to stay indoors and lock their homes.

By Monday morning, 300 addicts were still at large and police were searching nearby communities.

"We are still hunting them in fields and surrounding areas. Many have caught taxis and left the province," said a police officer who gave his name as Thanh, without providing his surname. "The people here are still very worried."

The Dong Nai rehab centre houses 1,500 people, which reports say is double its capacity. It houses both voluntary residents and addicts who have been ordered into the facility.

There are more than 200,000 addicts in the country, where heroin use is rampant, with about 13,000 in treatment centres, according to official figures.

Drug addicts can also undergo voluntary treatment at both state-owned and private establishments.

Human Rights Watch has denounced the conditions in Vietnam's rehab centres and a UN expert has recommended they be closed.

In April this year, 450 addicts fled a rehab centre in the southern province of Ba Ria Vung Tau. This followed a similar escape in 2014 when 400 broke out of a facility in Haiphong.