Recreational drug use on the rise in mainland cities

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 September, 2005, 12:00am

Legislation covering newer substances expected soon

Recreational drug use is rising throughout the mainland's large and medium-sized cities, and is reaching into all sectors of society, the Ministry of Public Security warned yesterday as it foreshadowed changes in the law to deal with the epidemic.

Ministry sources said in Beijing that an explicit judicial interpretation of offences and sentencing relating to recreational drugs was expected this year.

Ministry spokesman Wu Heping said the number of people using recreational drugs such as ketamine and Ecstasy had increased rapidly. New drug users accounted for 9.5 per cent of the country's total drug-using population last year, up 7 percentage points from 2001.

In the first seven months of this year, mainland officers seized 2.18 tonnes of Ice, or methamphetamine - a year-on-year increase of 9.5 per cent - and 370,000 Ecstasy pills, double the amount confiscated in the same period last year.

The new breed of recreational drugs, such as ketamine, Ecstasy and methamphetamine, differ from traditional drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, because they are produced synthetically.

Mr Wu said traditional drug addicts were mainly unemployed people on the margins of society, but recreational drug users could not be identified by their occupation.

Under China's Criminal Law, possessing or transporting heroin is a serious offence, and while recreational drugs are illegal, there are no specific rules about how people should be sentenced.

Liu Yuejin , a deputy director of the ministry's Narcotics Control Bureau, said legislation covering the newer drugs was being drafted and was expected to be released in two or three months.

Mr Liu agreed that recreational drug use had soared on the mainland since the early 1990s.

By the mid-1990s, underground drug factories were being built in Fujian and Guangdong and, in recent years, manufacturers had moved to other parts of the country, including Heilongjiang , Gansu , Henan and Guangxi .

Mr Liu said that in June, authorities discovered that a legal producer of the hypnotic pharmaceutical triazolam in Jilin was selling the drug to illegal buyers in the biggest case of its kind in the country.

The Jilin Pharmaceutical Company sold 1.5 million triazolam tablets to unlicensed buyers. Almost two-thirds of the pills have not been located.

Mr Liu said that in recent years, the drug had been used by perpetrators of robberies and sexual assaults. He said some manufacturers had moved to Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Recreational drugs were mainly found in nightclubs and similar venues, Mr Liu said, but were also making appearances at private parties. He said that in one case, each of the nearly 500 guests at a Shanghai wedding this year was given a ketamine pill.

'Some young people think using ketamine is fashionable and exciting. They don't regard it as unlawful,' Mr Liu said.

Manufacturing techniques had also improved, making the equipment and factories difficult to find.

Mr Liu said recent crackdowns on recreational drugs had pushed up the prices in most areas.

In Jinzhong , Shanxi province , prices tripled after a top drug supplier was shut down. And in the Anhui capital of Hefei , the price of ketamine soared from 100 to 150 yuan a gram in the first quarter of the year to between 400 and 500 yuan today.

There are an estimated 790,000 drug addicts on the mainland, but some police officers believe the official figure underestimates the real size of the problem.

After the high comes the low

Methamphetamine or Ice a crystallised substance which can cause irritability, convulsions and aggression

Ketamine a white powder which causes hallucinations and impaired perception

Rohypnol a pill which induces sleepiness, muscle relaxation and blackouts

Ecstasy a tablet which causes a feeling of being out of control and can lead to confusion, depression and muscle tension