Sixfold increase in seizures of party drug Ecstasy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2007, 12:00am


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Rise indicates it has come back into fashion with young users, customs says

Customs officers last year seized six times more Ecstasy tablets than in 2005 as the party drug came back into fashion.

There were also steep rises in seizures of heroin and cocaine.

The Customs and Excise Department seized 24,683 tablets, an increase of more than 651 per cent compared to the 3,285 seized the year before.

'If you look at the figures in 2005, Ecstasy, in our assessment, had gone out of fashion. It was not a popular drug at the time,' customs commissioner Timothy Tong Hin-ming said.

He said efforts had been taken to tackle the growth in ketamine use, which had replaced Ecstasy for a time as young people's drug of choice. Ketamine seizures fell by 78 per cent last year to 53kg from 242kg in the previous year.

But Mr Tong said '53kg of ketamine can do a lot of damage.'

There were big increases in seizures of heroin, which rose by 222.1 per cent to 46.9kg, and of cocaine, which went up 116.5 per cent to 11.2kg.

Mr Tong admitted that even though the overall number of cases had dropped slightly - by 1.5 per cent - and the value of seized drugs had fallen by more than 40 per cent, law enforcement officials were facing an uphill battle as traffickers and dealers targeted Hong Kong's lucrative market.

He said authorities had struck a blow to South American drug cartels targeting the city with recent arrests and operations carried out jointly by mainland and Hong Kong customs and police.

Narcotics agencies, social workers and police have all reported a marked increase in the number of teenagers and young people turning to drugs such as Ecstasy, ketamine and cocaine - so called 'party drugs'.

The problem was highlighted last July when 13-year-old girl Cheuk Wai-yin died after swallowing 10 times the lethal dose of Ecstasy at a Mong Kok nightclub. She had also taken ketamine.

Recent figures from the police narcotics division showed that in the first nine months of last year, the number of drug users under the age of 21 rose from 1,802 to 1,980, while the number of people using psychotropic drugs - those affecting a person's mental state - rose from 5,054 to 5,702.

Water Lai Tsz-chung, a social worker at Caritas Lok Heep Club counselling service, said the rise in usage of psychotropic drugs among young people was often due to peer pressure and because they viewed those kinds of drugs as less harmful and addictive than heroin and other hard drugs.

'They often take ketamine and cough syrup and cocaine,' he said. 'Recently, we have seen more and more young people, mostly teenagers about 16 or 17. Outreach workers deal with even younger children, of 13 or 14.'

Meanwhile, customs said fewer people were applying for jobs as officers or inspectors. Compared to 2005 when more than 12,000 applied for each position, last year 6,716 applied to be customs officers, while 8,906 applied for inspector. The department is trying to fill 546 posts this financial year.