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Ex-addicts team up to save lives of drug overdose victims

By Le Nga   September 14, 2019 | 04:29 am PT
Tan suffered drug addiction for 20 plus years. Today, he leads a team of former addicts, saving the lives of those who overdose.

It was just before lunch time that Le Trung Tan suddenly left his house in the northeastern province of Thai Nguyen. He had just got a call with information that someone had overdosed, about 5 km away.

Tan called his teammates and grabbed an emergency kit before rushing to the scene. There were two things in the kit that Tan never fails to include: syringes and naloxone.

Tan practices resuscitation skills to save people who have overdosed on drugs. Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Vu.

Tan practices resuscitation skills to save people who have overdosed on drugs. Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Vu.

In minutes, Tan and his friends reached the place where a pale main in his thirties lay on the ground among syringes and heroin packages, drooling, breathing heavily. He had overdosed.

"Let’s inject naloxone and call the ambulance," Tan told his team before giving the man artificial respiration. In about 15 minutes, the man regained consciousness.

"I had just used some drugs and then I saw nothing. I panicked and passed out, till I saw a lot of people around me when I woke up," the man said. He was hospitalized soon afterwards.

That was the 65th overdosed man whose life was saved by Tan and his team since 2018. 

In 2015, there were many cases of drug overdose in the area. After joining a training program specializing in rescuing people from overdoses carried out by the Center for Supporting Community Development Initiatives (SCDI), Tan founded the Thanh Cong (Success) Club with six of his friends.

53-year-old Tan is, in his own words, "a former drug addict with ups and downs."

He recalled: "The first time I saved a patient, I was shaking. I tried to detect his vital signals and I heard no heartbeat, I thought he was dead. Once he woke up, we felt so relieved and happy."

As the team gained experience and saved more lives, they also earned a good reputation in the community.

Most of the members are former drug users who have overcome a lot of bitterness before joining the team.

With 6 members, Thanh Cong Club is founded to support local drug users. Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Vu.

The six-member Thanh Cong Club meets at a gas station near founder Tan’s house. Photo by VnExpress/Hoa Vu.

Decades of addiction

In 1991, Tan, then 24, became a drug addict while working as a gold miner. The habit cost him a successful business which had 80 employees. He went bankrupt.

Later, working as a driver for a company in Hanoi, he was caught with drugs and sacked. Drug rehabilitation centers did not work for him. Tan decided to move to the Central Highlands Province of Dak Lak. He worked as a barber, a manual laborer and a mechanic. During these days, he also met a woman and fell in love.

However, even marrying his loved one did not prevent him from relapsing into drug abuse. He was sent to a rehab center when his wife was six months pregnant. The sad wife left for the south and delivered the baby without her husband.

His son was one year old when Tan returned home, 18 months later. "He did not know me and thought that I was a stranger," Tan recalled. 

Tan started using methadone in 2013. The medicine helped him get rid of heroin addiction and focus on doing some business. He also joined community activities to support drug users and introduce the methadone treatment that helped him.


Since they knew all the drug addicts in the area, Tan’s team approached each of them, gave them fliers and emergency contacts. 

Pham Hong Hai, a member of the Thanh Cong Club, said that he did not know what to do after coming home from a rehab center. He felt lost and empty. 

"Meeting Tan, joining community activities and helping other drug addicts makes me feel useful," Hai said.

"My family and I were in misery because of drugs, and that is my motivation to help other drug users," Tan said. 

Today, Tan and his team are satisfied with the precious rewards they get – hugs from a mother whose son had overdosed, tears of a wife whose husband woke up after fainting, and the promise of an addict that he will kick his habit.

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