If you plan to travel abroad, it’s always a good idea to acquaint yourself with the local laws and social expectations of your destination. Not that you’re planning to break any laws, of course. But, when traveling to foreign destinations, you may not know that certain behaviors are illegal. And once you find yourself in trouble, it may be of rather dire consequences.
Under the Notification and Access section of the travel.state.gov site for Vietnam, it states that:
“A 1994 agreement between the United States and Vietnam provides that Vietnamese officials should notify the U.S. Embassy of the detainment of a U.S. citizen within 96 hours of the arrest and that they give U.S. officials access to those citizens within 48 hours after notification of the arrest.
“Despite the 1994 agreement, Vietnamese officials do not always notify U.S. consular officers in Vietnam in a timely manner when they arrest or detain a U.S. citizen. There have also been very significant delays in U.S. consular officers obtaining access to some incarcerated U.S. citizens.”
The “investigatory stage” can last as long as one year, which means you are held for that long in a Vietnamese jail without local officials notifying your home country. Therefore, there is no right to a speedy trail like here in the U.S. Furthermore, you should be aware that the Vietnamese government considers the detained U.S. citizen to be a citizen of Vietnam, regardless of proof of U.S. citizenship.
Drug Laws and Penalties in Vietnam
Like China, Vietnam isn’t very forthcoming with its death penalty figures, which, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to get accurate data. What is clear, though, is that Vietnam is widely known to have some of the harshest drug laws in the world – and some of the highest execution rates.
For instance, the majority of death sentences in Vietnam are imposed for drug-related crimes: approximately 100 people are executed by firing squad in Vietnam each year for drug-related offenses.
Penalties for possession or use of drugs of any kind are severe.
Driving under the influence of alcohol in Vietnam can result in fines, confiscation of your driving permit, or imprisonment.
Fines are another aspect of Vietnamese drug laws. For example, violations of public security and order that involve drug use is subjected to fines from VND500,000 to VND1 million (US$23.50 to $47).
Mandatory treatment at drug rehab facilities is imposed for those caught using drugs. And repeat violators, after having done the mandatory rehabilitation, are subjected to jail terms that last anywhere from three months and two years.
Drug “Treatment” in Vietnam
According to the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, an average of between 75-90% of drug addicts treated nationwide have relapsed after rehabilitation. Dien Bien Province has seen up to 97% of its rehabilitated drug users return to a life of substance abuse.
In Ho Chi Minh City, alone, more than 2,100 drug users have been sent to mandatory rehab centers in the first half of this year, increasing the total number of people at drug rehab centers to more than 9,000 people.
Drug Use in Vietnam: Rampant Disease and Other Dangers
Do not walk Ho Chi Minh City’s bridges barefoot, or even in sandals. Used needles are everywhere. IV drug use is huge and the drugs of choice are heroin and amphetamines.
Despite the harsh penalties for using drugs, drug use and addiction is rampant in Vietnam and law enforcement is relatively lax. Due to the stigma, addicts resort to using in public places so as to at least be out of view of their family members even though they do it for all to see in parks, under bridges or even on bridges while motorists drive by.
Recreational drugs available in Vietnam can be extremely potent. Three U.S. citizens died in 2010 from accidental overdoses of drugs. Drug suppliers will often misrepresent the substances they are selling, such as heroin for cocaine and vice versa.
According to the government website, Vietnam had more than 171,000 drug users by the end of 2012, an increase of 12,900 over 2011. Experts say that one main cause is that rehabilitation centers are failing and most of their patients relapse.
Nguyen Thi Diep, a daily wage worker in Ho Chi Minh City said both her two sons died of AIDS they acquired by sharing needles.
“My second son died less than a month after being discharged from the rehab center. He had been discharged earlier in healthy conditions,” she said. This tragic story illustrates the ineffectiveness of treatment in Vietnam as well as the poor health conditions and high-risk usage that is so common there.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.