Date: Fri, 14 Nov 1997 03:47:20 EST
To: Multiple recipients of list <>
Subject: (Fwd) Heantos

>From BBC News
Friday, November 7, 1997 Published at 17:15 GMT
Vietnam's new approach to drugs

For hundreds of years, the people of Vietnam have used opium as a
sedative and cure-all, and addiction, especially in rural areas, is
common. But only in the last twenty years has the use of heroin, refined
from opium, become a problem, especially in the cities. Now, however,
there are signs of a possible surprise advance in confronting heroin
addiction and the massive problems that go with it. By using traditional
herbal medicines, the Vietnamese believe they may have found a quick and
simple cure. And they've won some powerful international support in
their new venture. Keith Graves has been to Vietnam to investigate...

The drug rehabilitation centre at Hoa Binh, a two-hour drive north of
the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, is an unlikely spot to find an experiment
being carried out that could prove to be a major breakthrough in the
treatment of drug addiction. The centre lies down a dirt track on the
edge of a village. The gates are locked. The surrounding ten-foot high
rough concrete wall is daubed with lurid paintings and slogans that,
although written in Vietnamese, leave no doubt about their meaning. With
accompanying pictures, one message says drugs are the highway to hell.

Until recently the Hoa Binh centre was the refuge of, and last resort
for, addicts. If the "cold turkey" method of weaning them off drugs by
denying them access failed to work, and it seldom did, they faced an
early death. But now Hoa Binh has become a place of hope where addicts
come voluntarily seeking a cure for their addiction in the firm belief
that there is one thanks to a black, sticky liquid that has been given
the name of Heantos - a play on the words "heat of the sun."

It's the invention of Dr Tran Khuong Dan, one of Vietnam's foremost
herbalists. Ten years ago, his father became addicted to opium and has
since died. Mr Tran set out to find a cure for addiction using
traditional ingredients - leaves and roots and tree bark. He travelled
the length and breadth of his country where many people still swear by
herbal cures over more modern medicines, collecting recipes from other
herbalists. Then he set about finding the right mix. As he tells it, he
made himself dependent first on opium, and then on heroin. And when he
broke his addiction, he knew he had succeeded in his quest.

Dr Tran took his recipe to the National Centre for Natural Sciences in
Hanoi where the mix of thirteen herbs and root extracts - some as common
as ginger, liquorice and cinnamon, others rare ingredients only found in
the remoter parts of the country - were refined into the black liquid
and given the name Heantos.

It has, for the past six months, been in regular use at the Hoa Binh
centre where the results appear to be quite remarkable. When I visited
the centre, the doctor in charge introduced a group of 20 patients, 18
men and two women, admitted three months earlier. Half were addicted to
opium, half to heroin. They had completed the Heantos course and all 20
claimed they were no longer dependent on drugs. They certainly showed
none of the usual symptoms and were soon to be released.

The day I first visited, two young addicts were admitted. They had all
the obvious symptoms and one of them had, from the black lines under the
skin, clearly been injecting deadly opium residue. Their five-day course
of heantos, administered orally three times a day, started immediately.
When I returned some days later, they appeared and claimed to be normal
and were working in the centre's garden.

Now this could easily be dismissed as quackery - except for the fact
that the United Nations Development Programme is so impressed that it's
backing a three-year research project by the prestigious Johns Hopkins
Medical Research Centre and the Medical College of Virginia Drug
Dependency Centre in the United States. Lutz Baehr, a United Nations
international project co-ordinator, who now divides his time between New
York and Vietnam, says he's witnessed the effectiveness of Heantos many
times. He doesn't understand how it works, but when he sees how
ineffective are cures offered in industrialised countries and the
effectiveness of the herbal cure, he is convinced it is worth pursuing.

The project has the backing of the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan,
because he believes it is important for the Third World - "recipient
nations" in UN jargon - to be able to offer something back to the donor
nations of the industrialised world.

It will be a long time yet before that happens - even if heantos does
live up to the hopes and expectations being pinned on it - because it
will have to undergo very lengthy tests and stringent research on
animals, not least to discover any possible long-term effects, before it
could even be tested on human beings, never mind be put into general
use. But as far as the patients at the Hoa Binh centre in Vietnam are
concerned, there is nothing to prove.