Driven by the rapid spread of HIV, Vietnam’s response to drug use has undergone significant transformation in the past decade. This paper seeks to identify and analyse factors that prompted these changes and to investigate their impact on the lives of people who use drugs.

This policy analysis is based on a review of Vietnamese Government documents, peer-reviewed publications and the authors’ knowledge of and involvement in drug policy in Vietnam.

Results showed that the last decade has witnessed a progressive change in the mindset of political leaders in Vietnam around illicit drug use and HIV issues. This has led to adoption of evidence-based interventions and the evolution of drug policy that support the scale up of these interventions. However, HIV prevalence among drug users at 31.5% remains high due to limited access to effective interventions and impediments caused by the compulsory treatment centre system.

The twin epidemics of HIV and illicit drug use have commanded high-level political attention in Vietnam. Significant policy changes have allowed the implementation of HIV prevention and drug dependence treatment services. Nevertheless, inconsistencies between policies and a continued com- mitment to compulsory treatment centres remain as major impediments to the provision of effective services to drug users. It is critical that Vietnamese government agencies recognise the social and health consequences of policy conflicts and acknowledge the relative ineffectiveness of centre-based compulsory treatment. In order to facilitate practical changes, the roles of the three ministries directly charged with HIV and illicit drug use need to be harmonised to ensure common goals. The participation of civil society in the policymaking process should also be encouraged. Finally, stronger links between local evidence, policy and practice would increase the impact on HIV prevention and drug addiction treatment programming.

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