164 drug addicts bust out of Vietnam rehab center

More than 160 drug addicts overpowered guards and escaped from a detention and rehabilitation center in central Vietnam, and about 30 of them remain at large, an official said Monday.

The 164 addicts escaped from the center in the coastal city of Danang on Saturday by overwhelming guards and charging through the facility's gates, center director Nguyen Hung Hiep said.

He said that 130 inmates had returned or were captured by police, who suspended their search and told relatives of the remaining addicts that the escapees must return to the facility.

Monday's Tien Phong newspaper said hundreds of police with dogs and tear gas had been mobilized for the hunt. It said some inmates fled to a sugarcane field, throwing rocks, bricks and sticks at police who used tear gas to subdue them.

Police were not available for comment Monday.

The center houses 398 inmates, including 48 women, who are addicted to heroin or other substances.

Vietnam's strict laws on drug use allow the government to order addicts held for up to two years in rehabilitation centers, many of them boot-camp style facilities that include hard labor and communist "ideological education."

Relapse rates are extremely high, and international human rights groups have criticized the centers as inhumane, saying drug users are essentially given arbitrary jail sentences without due process and that their addiction is not properly treated.

Several large escapes have been reported in recent years following a government order to increase the period of mandatory rehab treatment from one to two years.

Vietnam says there are more than 140,000 addicts in the country, many of them intravenous drug users infected with HIV/AIDS.