Prejudicial Title: The Vietnam drug user returns; final report, September 1973


To the best of my knowledge, Vietnam veterans have been the victims of the coverlargest outbreak of HCV in the United States to date.  The largest cohort was born in 1954. We know that there are many transmission routes in which this blood-borne virus entered the bodies of our troops from the period beginning at bootcamp to the day of discharge. HCV has been circulating in the human population ineffectively (ex. sex, household contacts, etc…) for hundreds of years but it exploded exponentially in the mid-2oth century due to medical interventions like transfusions and vaccinations.  Vaccinations and IV drug use shared the same practice of re-using needles or needles and syringes and this is a highly effective way of transmitting HCV.

Given the ubiquity of heroin in Vietnam, how many soldiers were actually IV users in-service? Where is the data?  I’ve found one official document from 1973 that attempts to answer this and other drug-use related questions: The Vietnam Drug User Returns.  Isn’t that a demeaning and horrible title? The word “user” is singular but it might as well be plural, so harmful is the picture it paints.

I was sure it would indicate widespread IV drug use in our soldiers. I found the opposite.

This focused study used military records (page 9), urine tests, VA records, and follow up interviews.  Summary:  In Sept. 1971, 13,760 Army enlisted men returned from Vietnam to the U.S..  They had urine tests for drugs (except marijuana)at departure. Only 1,400 tested positive for any type of drug at the time of departure.Then they took 470 samples from the larger general group and 495 samples from the drug positive group and followed up with them months later.

The study tried to answer 11 questions, one of which was how the soldiers ingested narcotics.  “The most common method of administration was by smoking. Only 8% had injected a narcotic in Vietnam” (viii). Later it says that sniffing was the second most common method of administration.  

(Note: There is no solid evidence that sniffing a chemical has transmitted HCV according to a CDC slide I came across recently.) A chart indicates skin popping as a possibility but injecting was last method chosen and “rare.”

Question: Why so few soldier injectors?

 “Injection in Vietnam was not necessary because the heroin was so cheap and pure” and the tour of duty was only one year for most soldiers (page 32).

Pre-Vietnam, 7% had tried heroin.  And this group continued to smoke it in-service with about 8% using an IV at least once. And 91% of those who didn’t inject narcotics, stopped using them when they returned home (page 62).

The soldiers were highly critical of heroin and considered it dangerous even though it was the most available drug–available within an hour (page 26).  This is just one group selected from one month chosen by the study designers because they felt heroin use would be the highest at this time. But again, I repeat: they found injecting to be rare

The percentage of IV use was less than I expected but this small group was still capable of effectively transmitting HCV to other IV-users and non-users in combat. Studies on current IVDUers might shed light on just how dangerous contact with this group was to the health of their fellow soldiers.   Combat exposure and other types of contact with the blood of this small IVDU group WAS a risk factor for HCV transmission to the larger group. It’s obvious that exposure to IVDUers in Vietnam should be on a list of risk factors because even though HCV hadn’t been “seen” or cloned, they KNEW for decades prior to the Vietnam War that hepatitis was associated with needles, diabetic needles, etc…

My sense is that IV drug use in Vietnam among soldiers was not the smoking gun when it comes to the massive HCV outbreak but it must have contributed to it within certain clusters of soldiers.  It would be good to find an honest statistician to work on this problem.  We know that 99-100% of these soldiers got vaccinations with unsterile medical device guns. A large percentage of injured soldiers received blood.  Donating blood is also a risk factor.  I’ve seen percentages of unsafe contact with Asian sex workers at around 48%.  If a prostitute averaged three/four intercourses a day for the previous year, a soldier was exposed to someone who was consistently having rough sex with perhaps as many of 900 different clients.  A female’s internal organs aren’t designed for this and mucosal damage would be inevitable. She could become infected or pass hepatitis infections easily. If menses was present, the transmission risk F > M would be even greater.  Having physical contact with only one sex worker (M or F) could have transmitted hepatitis.

Soldiers (100%) also received unsterile haircuts and shaves in compounds or by village barbers.  At least 50% of the soldiers this study engaged in combat activities even though the war was winding down.

article-0-172AF0FE000005DC-507_964x638

Mud, blood and horror UK article–click image to see more brutal pics

An intriguing mention of hepatitis sticks out: “Hepatitis and infections at the administration site were not uncommon as they are among addicts in the states, because narcotics were seldom injected” (page 32).  I’d like to know the background on this–which virus were they referring to since HCV hadn’t been discovered?  I’ve lost track of all the government papers I’ve read that attribute the high rate of HCV in veterans to their in-country IV use (no) and blood transfusions (yes). This is because one crappy but influential researcher cites another ad infinitum until all the citations are like a chain letter that just keep multiplying in their circles.

I have a New Year’s goals for these phonies:  Resolve to dig deeper, ask better hour glassquestions, revise your sloppy work, and redeem your scholarly reputations while you still can.

Vietnam Drug User Returnees. Yup, that’s how Vietnam veterans were viewed by our government–a notion that persists.  Is it any wonder that these soldiers weren’t welcomed home until 2011 by the Senate? March 30 is Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.  Hoorah?  I just want the facts about the HCV outbreak to be addressed.  Save the conciliatory speeches for someone else.

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7 Responses to Prejudicial Title: The Vietnam drug user returns; final report, September 1973

  1. asknod says:

    How anyone could fall for the “Cocaine” idea is crazy. Coke is a salt as in Hydrochloride. It soaks up water when exposed to air and turns into a paste in a few days in that humidity. Of course, we weren’t chemists and couldn’t know that back then. I wouldn’t have known what it looked like. Opium? Oh hell yeah. The Hmong smoked that for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You could use it for currency up in Long Tieng.

  2. John King says:

    RVN vets have been slandered so much where will it end. The cost factor to the VA and the USA is what is really at the root of the problem. We lost the war and we lost the soldiers. I was lost for years. How many TBI’s occurred in Vietnam? Who knows, who cares? PTSD cases…….only the most severe were ever accounted for because it took the VA years to even recognize it. All the AO diseases…….PD, IHD just added to the long list 40 years after the exposures. It all makes me wonder how people can be so easily led to their own destruction by a lying government and Patriotism which is a curse word to me.

  3. John King says:

    I know that a few vets in my outfit used IV drugs but maybe .5%. Most smoked or snorted it. I left in late 1970 just when heroin was cresting I think. I knew many heroin users, but very few IV users. Our medic was the guy who injected heroin. The guys who had been heavy dope users before Vietnam were the ones who were the IV guys. Like the man said Heroin was so cheap when I was there you did not need to inject it. I do remember that every time somebody made a run outside the gate they usually bought heroin to sell back at the base. I also remember that at first the army was trying to treat the heroin users and then they just started to boot them out as undesirables or bad conduct. I believe I was exposed to at least two major environmental hazards in RVN and one of them was heroin. We believed that heroin was “coke” until one of the wise guys from NYC told us it was heroin. If you smoked or snorted it for two weeks in a row you would be hurting if you suddenly stopped.

    • Kiedove says:

      If your medic was an IV user, and was treating wounds etc..chances are good that if he had HCV or HBV, he was spreading it around.

    • Kiedove says:

      Your experience of seeing soldiers who used it by smoking it or sniffing is backed up by this report. Also that previous users in their civilian life were most likely to use heroin in Vietnam is also backed up. But about 50% of those enlisted men were called “innocents” in that they had not used any drugs prior to service other than alcohol, maybe smoked marijuana, or tried cough medicine. In this study participants on average were 20 years old, high school grads, raised by two parents, and had never gotten in trouble with the law. In fact, their limited drug experimentation was like that of their civilian friends back home. But most had there first exposure to drugs in Vietnam. Soldiers from large cities were more likely to have had previous exposure to drugs.
      Birds of a feather flock together. The soldiers mainly smoked marijuana which is not associated with HCV transmission, not even once. My spouse remembers village mama-sans selling a legal dieting drink in bottles, which was really an upper of some kind. Exhausted soldiers sometimes drank it to stay awake while on watch so others could sleep in their holes.

  4. SquidlyOne says:

    The draft ended so I didn’t have to go…but friends and relatives coming back home were welcomed in rural America. No discussion at all about IV drug users. In fact, I don’t ever recall hearing about the issue until after 1999 when the military and the VA were busy with the “blame game” as to why so many Vietnam Vets had diseases. This has been a dead issue for over a decade anyway. Why is 1954 a vintage year? What is the CDC holding back? We know why the VA hides under rocks.

    • Kiedove says:

      Great question about 1954 birth year. Maybe it is related to recruitment numbers..more entering service with that year than other years? We need to find out.

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