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Viet Nam opens the first methadone maintenance therapy service unit for prisoners

Hanoi (Viet Nam), 2 October 2015 - Phu Son Prison in Thai Nguyen province, with support from UNODC Viet Nam, has launched the first methadone maintenance therapy (MMT) service unit for prisoners in Viet Nam.

"In 2010, I participated in a study-visit supported by UNODC to learn about prison based methadone programmes in Spain. Witnessing the positive impacts of the programme on prisoners as individuals, and the prisons as a whole, I reported the visit results and recommendations to the Ministry of Public Security," said Police Colonel Nguyen Xuan Truong, Chief Prison Officer at Phu Son Prison. "It has been quite a wait since then, but I am happy that Phu Son is the first prison to open methadone services for prisoners."

The August 2015 launch of the pilot MMT service in Phu Son prison marks a significant milestone for UNODC and the Viet Nam government. This pilot program was the result of long-term, dedicated efforts to improve HIV prevention, treatment and care in Vietnamese prison settings.

"Since 2009, UNODC has worked with the Government of Viet Nam to provide opioid substitution therapy as part of the comprehensive HIV service package for people who are living and working in prisons," said Christopher Batt, UNODC Officer-In-Charge.

The MMT service is an evidence-based therapy for opioid dependence. It reduces opioid use by eliminating withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings, decreasing the risk of HIV and the transmission of other blood-borne diseases, and reducing the likelihood of criminal behaviour. In addition, it integrates the patient into a continuum of care during and after their prison stay.

"It is expected the MMT service unit will enhance prisoners' quality of life through improving educational opportunities, reducing transmission of HIV and other diseases, and decreasing the rate of relapse and overdose in prison settings," elaborated Mr. Batt. "The first methadone treatment service opened in the prison has offered adequate treatment to the prisoners affected by drugs, which brings equality for all. The prisoners have the same right to good health care services as others."

The Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security estimates that three out of 10 prisoners use drugs. Prison populations are at a high risk of HIV infection and other blood-borne diseases, including Hepatitis B and C. They also have a similarly high risk of relapse or drug overdose if their treatment needs are not met.

UNODC Viet Nam will soon launch a second MMT service unit in Thanh Xuan prison, located in Ha Noi, and has plans to continue expanding the MMT programme into other prisons.