Date: Fri, 27 Jun 1997 08:59:07 -0700 (PDT)
From: (SCN User)
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: HEANTOS update

] Subj: Wire: Vietnamese Cure For Drug Addicts To Be Tested In U.S.
] From:
] Date: Wed, 25 Jun 1997 18:01:33 -0700

Source: Inter Press Service


      June 25, 1997

      WASHINGTON -  Almost 25 years after withdrawing its defeated troops
      from Vietnam, the United States is welcoming Vietnamese scientists
      to its shores hoping they can help Washington win its $16 billion a
      year war against drugs.

      Nine Vietnamese scientists are visiting here this week as part of a
      major international study to determine whether an herbal
      compound developed by traditional healers in Vietnam can
      actually cure drug addiction.

      The medication, Heantos, has apparently produced sensational
      results in Vietnam where it has been tested on some 4,000 drug
      addicts. It will now undergo rigorous trials that meet top
      international standards in a collaboration between Vietnam's
      National Center for Natural Science and Technology (NCNST)
      Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, one of the top U.S.
      institutes dealing with drug addiction, and the National Institute
      of Drug Abuse (NIDA) here.

      Funded with more than $400,000 from the U.N. Development
      Program (UNDP), the unprecedented international program could
      mark a historic breakthrough in fighting addiction, according to
      Dr. Roy Morey, UNDP's Washington director.

      "We hope to God this thing is at least half as effective as we
  think it is," he told reporters at a press conference here today.

      "We think it will save this country and the Western world billions
      of billions of dollars," said former U.S. Congressman Bill
      Alexander. The former Arkansas lawmaker and long-time friend of
      President Bill Clinton became interested in Heantos on a visit to
      Vietnam in 1991.

      With almost three million hard-core heroin and cocaine addicts,
      the United States spends as much as $80 billion a year to cover
      the direct and indirect costs of drug abuse. Rising drug use and
      addiction rates in other countries, especially in some poor
      nations, have made the scourge one of the costliest challenges
      facing governments today.

      Officially, almost 200,000 Vietnamese suffer addiction, primarily
     to opium-based drugs, including heroin, morphine, and opium itself.
      But cocaine addiction is also on the rise, and independent
      analysts say the actual overall addiction rate in Vietnam runs
      much higher.

      The addicted population is divided into three major groups:
      traditional users of opium; people who were treated with morphine
      for severe wounds incurred during the war or from accidents; and
      younger Vietnamese who have become addicted for social
      reasons, similar to those which motivate young addicts in western

      Dr. Tran Khuong Dan, Heantos' inventor, said he hails from a
      family of traditional herbalists which goes back many generations.
      After witnessing his elder brother die of a drug overdose and the
      sharp rise in drug addiction rates in Ho Chi Minh City in the early
      1980s, he decided to seek a cure based on the principles and
      accumulated wisdom of 2,500 years of traditional Asian medicine.

      He began by collecting herbs in all parts of Vietnam, including the
      traditional opium-growing areas of the Montagnard tribes people
      in the western highlands of the country. He also studied and
      worked for six years in a laboratory refining a compound made
      from 13 common, indigenous herbs. Much of his work was based
      on the recipes of Chinese physicians and remedies used by the
      indigenous groups themselves when their opium crop failed.

      By 1989, Tran, who used Heantos to cure his own drug addiction,
      launched the compound through the Ministry of Health. Tests
      involving almost 4,000 opium, heroin, morphine, and cocaine
      addicts from about three dozen hospitals, clinics, treatment
      centers in both northern and southern Vietnam, followed. More
      than 3,000 patients have reportedly been treated successfully.

      Heantos is administered in two different stages. In the first, the
      patient is given the compound in liquid form over three to five
      days to overcome withdrawal symptoms. The second stage,
      during which the patient is given the compound in capsule form,
      can last between one and six months, depending on the subject's
      physical condition. It is designed to eliminate the craving for
      drugs altogether.

      Unlike methadone, a popular but costly heroin substitute for
      addicts in much of the West, Heantos is not addictive. "Heantos
      is not a drug substitute," according to Tran. "(Addicts) can stop
      taking it" after they complete the second phase.

      The total treatment costs about $70 in Vietnam. By contrast,
      annual methadone costs per patient can run as high as $3,000 in
      the United States.

      Heantos' most spectacular results were achieved with war
      veterans who became addicted to opium after treatment for their
      wounds. Of more than 100 veterans who were treated with
      Heantos, only 30 percent returned for their opium dosage after
      one year.

      One of the many unique aspects of the proposed collaboration,
      according to Dr. Lutz Baehr, who heads the project for the U.N.
      Office for Project Services, is the "intercultural" exchange that
     will take place between western scientists and eastern herbalists.

      "We have the best people in place for studying this at Johns
      Hopkins," said Baehr, "and there is no better herbalist in Vietnam
      than Tran.

      Heading up the U.S. side at Johns Hopkins is Dr. Donald Jasinski,
      chief of the Department for Clinical Pharmacology and Chemical
      Dependence. "The Vietnamese want to introduce this to the West
      in such a way as to evaluate the compound in accordance with
      scientific standards," he told IPS.

      "We looked at the data...and we asked, 'Is it in the public
interest to evaluate this?' The answer is yes," he said. "There is
enough to justify doing a study." Jasinski noted that many of the
most effective medicines used in the West today derived originally
      from folk preparations.

      The initial $400,000 provided by UNDP will fund the collaboration
      through the end of the year, according to Morey. If the initial
      trials go well, he said, further work could cost up to $4 million
     over the following two-and-a-half years. That money could be raised
      from bilateral donors, private foundations, or private sector
      industries. He described UNDP's role as that of "a kind of venture

      "As this drug treatment becomes better known, there may be
      considerable interest on the part of the private sector," he noted,
      adding that the Vietnamese government turned to UNDP
      "because they want a neutral institution to help them establish
      contact with counterparts in other countries. We served as a
      honest broker in this," he added.

      Alexander praised the U.N. role in facilitating the collaboration,
      and especially in overcoming what he called the "enormous bias
      in western medicine" against traditional remedies. "The U.N. has
      been enormously effective compared to the U.S. government in
      dealing with a problem of this type," he said.

      [Copyright 1997, Inter Press Service]