“After six miscarriages, my mother gave birth to me, her only child. That’s why I was pampered from a young age. It was part of the reason I fell into drug addiction when I began attending college in Hanoi,” the 45-year-old said, recalling his darkest days.
Knowing his parents would never dare reprimand him, the boy from northern Ha Nam Province publicly admitted his dependency on drugs.
Many times, Tuan told his mother: “Give me the money just this last time.”
Seeing her son struggle, Luong Thi Van swallowed her tears and shoved money in her child’s hand. After using up all of his mother’s money, Tuan turned to tricking his sister. When there was nothing left in the house for him to take, Tuan “drifted” to Hanoi to take on the role of killer-for-hire and bouncer, among others to satisfy his increasing addiction.
Due to her son’s reputation, Tuan’s mother returned home from the market on multiple occasions without being served.
Le Van Thuy, Tuan’s father, had to resign from his position as the commune’s vice chairman of Vietnam Veterans Association after other members criticized him for not being “reputable enough.”
The first time Tuan tried quitting, he asked his father to lock him in a room, chain his feet to the floor and throw the key into the pond. But after only three days, his body raked with withdrawal symptoms, he broke down the doors, pulled the concrete plate attached to the chain from the floor and rushed off to feed his addiction. That day, after returning home more subdued, Tuan knelt in front his mother’s feet and said: “This time, I promise to quit drugs.”
A determined Tuan asked his mother to shave his head before digging an impassably deep trench around his 200-square-meter home.
Thuy told his wife: “Tuan’s digging like during wartime.”
About a month after uttering his promise, Tuan felt his craving for drugs recede, even gaining a few kilograms and appearing healthier. Everyone admired Tuan’s determination.
Seeing him “transformed”, one of his drug-addict friends came to seek his advice on how to quit. But after sharing a few stories, a sudden urge saw Tuan delve back into the abyss.
This time, he was taken to a rehab center where he fought with his caregivers and became the “leader” of gang.
Once, spotting his mother carrying a bag en route to visit him, a tormented Tuan asked his “juniors” to tattoo the word “happiness” below the soles of his feet. “Me and all other addicts at this center have stepped on and crushed our families’ happiness,” he explained.
However, the first thing Tuan did after exiting rehab was get lit.
This vicious cycle continued until Tuan’s wife requested a divorce, prompting him to overdose since he felt he had “nothing else to lose.” For seven hours, Tuan failed to regain consciousness, with villagers deliberating whether to place him in a coffin or not.
At 6 a.m., he opened his eyes, found himself dressed in new clothes, with his hands and feet bound in preparation for a funeral ceremony. Terrified and praying, Tuan’s mother watched him rise from the coffin.
“If I can’t die, I must live with dignity and be a better human,” a teary Tuan stated.
In front of everyone, he once again promised to quit his addiction. Overhearing his words, a neighbor joked: “I would get beheaded if you fulfilled your promise.”
For three days in a row, Tuan soaked himself in a water tank to endure his withdrawal symptoms, his worried father keeping him company all the while, even rubbing his head for encouragement.
After staying home for half a month, Tuan again felt his craving recede. In 2001, Pham Thi Bang, a woman seven years his junior living in the next village, dared to accompany him on a date despite her parents’ objections.
The couple borrowed money to start a business by raising ducks. Once, attending a wedding in the next village, Tuan was lured into a cemetery by an old acquaintance who persuaded him to get high. Recalling the faces of his wife and newborn daughter, he jabbed a needle into his thigh, hoping the pain would drown out his urge. That night, revealing his bloody leg to his wife, the couple rejoiced in Tuan’s ability to beat his addiction.
After his duck-raising business floundered, Tuan and his wife took on a series of jobs, including trading old motorbikes and real estate. He then used this savings to open a taxi firm in Hung Yen Province and a truck transportation company in Dak Nong Province.
With both ventures operating smoothly, Tuan was informed a former rehab friend had been executed for murder. “I think if he got help, maybe he wouldn’t have followed that path. So I decided to do something to help others like me rebuild their lives,” Tuan said.
Tuan (L) shows delegates at the Institute of Psychological Studies and Support for Drug Users the displayed pieces of equipment for drug usage in Hanoi, March 2021. Photo courtesy of PSD.
He subsequently sold all his property and relocated to Hanoi with his family. Here, with accumulated knowledge and support from experts, Tuan established a rehab center now known as the Institute of Psychological Studies and Support for Drug Users (PSD) in Hanoi. Addicts admitted here are typically supported with psychological treatment, physical rehabilitation and reintegration.
Tuan and the PSD staff were selected by Colombo Plan, a regional organization of 27 economies designed to strengthen economic and social development of members in the Asia-Pacific region, to receive support in drug use prevention training.
Kim Tuan, a 31 years old patient at PSD who suffered from a nine-year addiction, said here he is respected, unlike at other centers.
“In particular, I learned meaningful life lessons from Tuan. He and I have many things in common – like we were raised in a family of educated parents and had had the chance to go to school but later fell into addiction. If he can stand up and rebuild his life, I can do it too!” said Kim Tuan, now a psychiatrist at PSD.
PSD has helped more than 230 drug addicts to date. In addition to supporting drug addicts, Tuan has built a connection with multidisciplinary corporations in fisheries, real estate, media and other industries so people who complete their treatment can access career opportunities to restart their lives.