To have one child, and then another, become drug addicts guarantees a life of suffering, a life of living on the edge.

At 70, Vietnamese Nguyen Thi Minh Le has garnered several lifetimes worth of experience in dealing with a hopeless situation. She had resigned herself to taking care of two adult sons until her last breath. At the same time, however, she never stopped trying.

A resident of District 4 in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Le said both her sons became drug addicts with the little brother following the older one, she said in tears.

She remembers the village as a centre of drug addicts. Every family had at least one addict. “This people-killing white powder (heroin) had come to every corner, like a plague,” she said.

When he was four, her older son dropped out of school, fell into bad company and became a drug addict. The family was broken, but worse was to follow. The second child, three years younger, took after his brother, and became an addict, too. The life of the mother collapsed.

It is a nightmare when both children are addicted. The mother had to develop “three heads and six hands” to be able to survive. She woke up early, went to bed late, travelled to other provinces to purchase agricultural produce to sell in the city, aiming to save small sums of money that she could give to her two sons.

Her reasoning was simple: “The two are very kind, but I was afraid they would steal from others, so I tried to make money for them.”

Meanwhile, she also took the two addicts to rehabilitation centres, and brought doctors home to treat them.

All this while, Le had hopes that some day her sons would escape from their drug addiction. But these hopes diminished as she borrowed money from relatives, friends and neighbours, sometimes at usurious rates to keep the treatments going. She had to evade creditors by living temporarily in remote commune.


Peer educator Nguyen Thi Minh Le (left) meets Le Van Ho, an education official at Ward 8’s consulting room in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Photo: Asia News Network/Vu Thuy

Then, time seemed to stop. There was a period when both sons got married and children were born as the sons did not relapse into drug use again.

Sadly, it did not last, and the relapse happened. Their wives left, leaving behind the children, although they were just infants. The two addicts were admitted to drug treatment centres. On her own, Le took care of three children, aged 10 months, 20 months and 27 months.

After all the ordeals, a mothers and grandmothers love paying off, at least partially. In 2006, the second son ended his two-year treatment at a clinic, and found work as an electrician. He has remained drug-free since.

The older son remained addicted, so Le had to take him to the city’s mandatory methadone treatment centre for addicts in 2012. This time, it worked, and he also found a job.

For more than 10 years, there were several times that she felt like ending it all. “I wanted to die, but it is a mother’s love that forced me to wait until today,” she said.

A few months after the rehabilitation of her eldest son, Le Van Ho, an education official at Ward 8, came to meet Le. He suggested that she works as a peer educator with the voluntary treatment programme for drug addicts.

She agreed. “As a mother of drug addicts, I understand the misery of parents and families having children who get addicted. If you take 10 addicts to the treatment centre, eight return to using drugs again. But, with the information I have, I still want to help everyone avoid the mistakes my two sons made,” said Le.

Despite having to deal with drug addicts again, Le is very happy with what she is doing now. At 70, she is in the consulting room every day, to support addicts admitting themselves to the treatment centre. She also helps organise outdoor activities.

“She assists addicts with a mother’s love. Sometimes, she gives them small amounts of money,” said Van Ho.

For Le, both two battles to take two sons back from addiction, and to help addicts were harder. “Those who give up addiction successfully, I am happy. Those who relapse, I take them to other routes. I guide them to be treated with methadone or at compulsory rehabilitation centres,” she said.

One addict, a young woman, asked Le recently to help because her mother, the only relative, was seriously paralysed and couldnt vouch that her daughter would drink the methadone as required. Le persuaded the doctor at the district’s treatment centre to allow the girl to stand as a guarantee herself.

Many addicts now see Le as a life-saving benefactor. N.V Trung, a local longtime drug addict, has been assisted with money many times by Le to go to the treatment centre, but has relapsed every time. Le was sad, but gave her love without reproach. As he talked with her, Trung cried a lot, and once again, she guided him to register for using methadone, and bought rice for Trung family.

Van Ho said the local treatment programme faces many difficulties because there is a high rate of relapse after treatment. “We, peer educators and drug addicts see the life of Le as an inspiration to continue the fight against addiction,” he said. – Viet Nam News/Asia News Network/Vu Thuy