Vietnam drug addict inmates
Drug addict inmates at an official treatment centre in VietnamHoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty

Hundreds of drug addicts in Vietnam are on the run after breaking out of a rehab centre. A large number of the 450 addicts who escaped on 13 April are reportedly on a compulsory rehabilitation programme ordered by the Vietnamese government.

The detainee drug addicts are believed to have attacked security guards, broken down the main gate and climbed over the walls of the centre located in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau. Local authorities are now urging families to bring back the runaway addicts so that they can complete their treatment.

Le Thi Trang Dai, director of the provincial labour department, told AFP: "We have brought 150 patients back, while search efforts are under way for nearly 300 others. Police are also investigating the reasons behind the escape, trying to understand if there is a leader behind the incident."

State-run newspaper VN Express reported that the escaped detainees have been begging for clothes from local residents and attempting to hitch-hike out of the area. Meanwhile, others are thought to have escaped into a nearby forest.

Vietnam's government has imposed a compulsory two-year treatment programme on the country's estimated 140,000 drug addicts. Addicts are also able to voluntarily check into the rehabilitation treatment centres. The escapees are a mix of compulsory and voluntary admissions.

In 2012 a report by Human Rights Watch condemned Vietnam's rehab centres, while a number of United Nations bodies also spoke out against them. The World Health Organisation, Unaids, Unicef and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) were among those to call for the closure of drug detention centres.

Human Rights Watch noted that former detainees had told the NGO of how physical violence was a "routine part of life inside drug detention centres". A former detainee from Vietnam said: "If we opposed the staff they beat us with a one-metre, six-sided wooden truncheon. Detainees had the bones in their arms and legs broken. This was normal life inside."