1. Vietnamese Herbal Treatement for Drug Addiction to Undergo Trials

WASHINGTON, (June 23) IPS – Almost 25 years after withdrawing its defeated troops from Vietnam, the United States is welcoming Vietnamese scientists to its shores hoping they can help Washington win its $16 billion a year war against drugs.

Nine Vietnamese scientists are visiting here this week as part of a major international study to determine whether an herbal compound developed by traditional healers in Vietnam can actually cure drug addiction.

The medication, Heantos, has apparently produced sensational results in Vietnam where it has been tested on some 4,000 drug addicts. It will now undergo rigorous trials that meet top international standards in a collaboration between Vietnam’s National Center for Natural Science and Technology (NCNST) Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, one of the top U.S. institutes dealing with drug addiction, and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) here.

Funded with more than $400,000 from the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), the unprecedented international program could mark a historic breakthrough in fighting addiction, according to Dr. Roy Morey, UNDP’s Washington director.

“We hope to God this thing is at least half as effective as we think it is,” he told reporters at a press conference here today.

“We think it will save this country and the Western world billions of billions of dollars,” said former U.S. Congressman Bill Alexander. The former Arkansas lawmaker and long-time friend of President Bill Clinton became interested in Heantos on a visit to Vietnam in 1991.

With almost three million hard-core heroin and cocaine addicts, the United States spends as much as $80 billion a year to cover the direct and indirect costs of drug abuse. Rising drug use and addiction rates in other countries, especially in some poor nations, have made the scourge one of the costliest challenges facing governments today.

Officially, almost 200,000 Vietnamese suffer addiction, primarily to opium-based drugs, including heroin, morphine, and opium itself. But cocaine addiction is also on the rise, and independent analysts say the actual overall addiction rate in Vietnam runs much higher.

The addicted population is divided into three major groups: traditional users of opium; people who were treated with morphine for severe wounds incurred during the war or from accidents; and younger Vietnamese who have become addicted for social reasons, similar to those which motivate young addicts in western societies.

Dr. Tran Khuong Dan, Heantos’ inventor, said he hails from a family of traditional herbalists which goes back many generations. After witnessing his elder brother die of a drug overdose and the sharp rise in drug addiction rates in Ho Chi Minh City in the early 1980s, he decided to seek a cure based on the principles and accumulated wisdom of 2,500 years of traditional Asian medicine.

He began by collecting herbs in all parts of Vietnam, including the traditional opium-growing areas of the Montagnard tribes people in the western highlands of the country. He also studied and worked for six years in a laboratory refining a compound made from 13 common, indigenous herbs. Much of his work was based on the recipes of Chinese physicians and remedies used by the indigenous groups themselves when their opium crop failed.

By 1989, Tran, who used Heantos to cure his own drug addiction, launched the compound through the Ministry of Health. Tests involving almost 4,000 opium, heroin, morphine, and cocaine addicts from about three dozen hospitals, clinics, treatment centers in both northern and southern Vietnam, followed. More than 3,000 patients have reportedly been treated successfully.

Heantos is administered in two different stages. In the first, the patient is given the compound in liquid form over three to five days to overcome withdrawal symptoms. The second stage, during which the patient is given the compound in capsule form, can last between one and six months, depending on the subject’s physical condition. It is designed to eliminate the craving for drugs altogether.

Unlike methadone, a popular but costly heroin substitute for addicts in much of the West, Heantos is not addictive. “Heantos is not a drug substitute,” according to Tran. “(Addicts) can stop taking it” after they complete the second phase.

The total treatment costs about $70 in Vietnam. By contrast, annual methadone costs per patient can run as high as $3,000 in the United States.

Heantos’ most spectacular results were achieved with war veterans who became addicted to opium after treatment for their wounds. Of more than 100 veterans who were treated with Heantos, only 30 percent returned for their opium dosage after one year.

One of the many unique aspects of the proposed collaboration, according to Dr. Lutz Baehr, who heads the project for the U.N. Office for Project Services, is the “intercultural” exchange that will take place between western scientists and eastern herbalists.

“We have the best people in place for studying this at Johns Hopkins,” said Baehr, “and there is no better herbalist in Vietnam than Tran.

Heading up the U.S. side at Johns Hopkins is Dr. Donald Jasinski, chief of the Department for Clinical Pharmacology and Chemical Dependence. “The Vietnamese want to introduce this to the West in such a way as to evaluate the compound in accordance with scientific standards,” he told IPS.

“We looked at the data…and we asked, ‘Is it in the public interest to evaluate this?’ The answer is yes,” he said. “There is enough to justify doing a study.” Jasinski noted that many of the most effective medicines used in the West today derived originally from folk preparations.

The initial $400,000 provided by UNDP will fund the collaboration through the end of the year, according to Morey. If the initial trials go well, he said, further work could cost up to $4 million over the following two-and-a-half years. That money could be raised from bilateral donors, private foundations, or private sector industries. He described UNDP’s role as that of “a kind of venture capitalist.”

“As this drug treatment becomes better known, there may be considerable interest on the part of the private sector,” he noted, adding that the Vietnamese government turned to UNDP “because they want a neutral institution to help them establish contact with counterparts in other countries. We served as a honest broker in this,” he added.

Alexander praised the U.N. role in facilitating the collaboration, and especially in overcoming what he called the “enormous bias in western medicine” against traditional remedies. “The U.N. has been enormously effective compared to the U.S. government in dealing with a problem of this type,” he said.

  1. Deepak Chopra Settles Libel Suit

WASHINGTON, June 23, AP — Best-selling author Deepak Chopra and The Weekly Standard have reached an out-of-court settlement of his libel lawsuit, the magazine said Monday.

In a July 1, 1996, article, the conservative weekly accused the self-help guru of plagiarism and of hiring on three occasions a prostitute who claimed he paid her with a credit card.

“While we operated in good faith in publishing the article, we are now convinced that certain allegations reported in that story were false,” the Standard said in a “correction and an apology.” It added that the tone of its original article was unfair to Chopra.

The magazine said it now believed someone else used a credit card with Chopra’s name and forged his signature.

It also retracted the allegation that Chopra plagiarized another published work.

And the magazine said, “We also would no longer state that his company’s herbal remedies have high levels of bug parts and rodent hairs, or levels higher than other such organic products.”

Chopra had sought $35 million in the lawsuit. The Washington Post said sources familiar with the case told it the settlement included payment of his legal fees but no additional cash.

“The dispute between Dr. Deepak Chopra and The Weekly Standard has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties,” the Standard said in one-sentence statement about the settlement’s terms.