PRESS BRIEFING BY UNDP ON HERBAL MEDICINE 'HEANTOS' FOR TREATMENT OF DRUG DEPENDENCY
FOR INFORMATION OF UNITED NATIONS SECRETARIAT ONLY
A major initiative involving the Government of Viet Nam, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Chemical Dependency Center of the Johns Hopkins University in Maryland is under way to review, test and eventually make available on a wider scale a herbal medicine, known as Heantos in Viet Nam, for the treatment of drug dependency, a UNDP official said at a Headquarters press briefing yesterday afternoon, 12 June.
Roy D. Morey, Director of the UNDP Washington Liaison Office, said a $450,000 project document was signed last month. The United Nations Office of Programme Services was also involved in the project. Discussions going on now were the first phase of what could develop into a large project. "To do the full testing (and) analyse the results, would actually require another two years", he said in response to questions.
Mr. Morey, who was UNDP Resident Coordinator in Hanoi for four years until the beginning of this year, said UNDP was sponsoring a visit of a team of senior Vietnamese scientists to the United States next week for talks in Washington, D.C. with their counterparts at the Johns Hopkins University Chemical Dependency Center. Similar meetings had been arranged with the National Institute for Drug Addiction, which operates under the National Institute of Health and with interested United States Congressmen. The Vietnamese scientists would also visit New York. Discussions would among others cover how the testing programme would be carried out during the remainder of the year.
Earlier Mr. Morey said various treatments for addiction to opium, heroin and cocaine had been developed throughout Asia. Careful study and work on some 13 herbs that grow in Viet Nam had resulted in the treatment called Heantos. In recent years there had been an increase in drug abuse in Viet Nam and, as a result, there was considerable demand for treatment that was safe, reliable and cost-effective, he said.
Mr. Morey said the trials carried out to date in Viet Nam, involving some 3,000 persons, had shown that the treatment was safe with fairly minimum side effects. The herbal medication was administered in liquid doses for a period of three to five days, followed by tablets taken for an additional month. The treatment was not a drug substitute medication, he stressed. It was being administered to those primarily addicted to opium, heroin and in some cases, cocaine.
UNDP Briefing - 2 - 13 June 1997
"In my view, if this treatment did not have, at least some potential, it certainly would have been difficult to attract the involvement" of the Chemical Dependency Center, he said.
Giving a genesis of the project, Mr. Morey said about a year ago he was visited by a Vietnamese scientist in Hanoi who was interested in establishing a project to develop a capacity within the country to carry out internationally acceptable trials into herbal treatment of drug addiction. The internationally-recognized Center for Chemical Dependency at Johns Hopkins University was consequently contacted.
Responding to questions, Mr. Morey said the treatment had not been internationally patented. A patent was being applied for in Viet Nam where the treatment had been developed by a Government institute. One of the reasons why the Vietnamese institute and the Government had approached the United Nations, was their desire to receive technical assistance to carry out the testing on the treatment. They had sought UNDP good offices to put them in touch with the proper authorities, he said, adding that the result was the forthcoming visit of the Vietnamese scientists. The process adopted by the Vietnamese would in a sense enable them to maintain some control over the treatment. It would also ensure that all the necessary steps had been taken, particularly regarding internationally-recognized testing, before the application for a patent was made.
He told another questioner that the Centre for Chemical Dependency had sent several missions to Viet Nam beginning with a surveillance mission. Initially there had been scepticism, he said. Mr. Morey observed that the potential of the treatment was so enormous that its credibility could be challenged rather easily. "But, I can say, that even as a doubting Thomas myself, that it was really at the point that the Center for Chemical Dependency of the Johns Hopkins University decided to join with us in really examining the efficacy of this treatment that my resolve was strengthened." If everything went well, he said the trials would eventually be carried out not only in Viet Nam but in the United States as well.
A press release distributed at the briefing said that the work being carried out was expected to lay the foundation "for a major global initiative to commence in January 1998, with profound implications for the treatment of drug addiction in the United States and elsewhere in the developed and developing worlds". It was estimated, according to the release, that within the United States alone, the economic costs of rampant drug abuse amounted to some $70 to $80 billion per year. That included the direct costs of treatment, costs associated with the crime which accompanied drug addiction as well as the costs associated with HIV/AIDS.
The release said that for the international scientific community, and hence regulatory agencies such as the United States Food and Drug Administration to clear the way for a more widespread use of Heantos, a rigorous research and testing effort needed to be mounted.
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