Party drug crippling our children's minds, bodies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2007, 12:00am

The party drug ketamine has been around for more than 40 years, but no one really knows the full extent of the health risks associated with taking it. Hong Kong doctors have a good idea of two of the side effects, though - bladder and kidney dysfunction - and are alarmed at the sharp increase in the number of people being admitted to hospitals with the problems.

The contention is that long-term abuse could lead to kidney failure. Add that to the possibility of cardiovascular failure, memory loss, schizophrenia, unnoticed injury due to the drug's anaesthetic qualities and the unknowns yet unfound, and there can be only one conclusion: use of ketamine is dangerous.

It is a message that schools, police and the courts have been trying to get across, particularly since July last year, when a 13-year-old girl died of a drug cocktail that included ketamine. Their efforts would not seem to be having much effect, if the increase in hospital admissions and 36.9 per cent rise in cases of abuse reported by police in the first quarter of this year over the same period in 2006 is any guide.

Much of this can be put down to ketamine being brought into Hong Kong from the mainland in ever-increasing amounts, leading to it being readily available and inexpensive. As small as our borders may be, demand and supply will always find a way around barriers.

Ketamine is fashionable with some party and disco-goers, particularly the young, but there is no getting around the fact that it is harmful. That is why there are laws and penalties for those who have it in their possession.

The government plans to set up a HK$1.8 million health check programme for users and doctors have called for provision of more intensive care and counselling. But as worthy as these ideas are to tackling the problem, they have to be part of a toughened community-wide approach.

To properly get the message across, the effort has to begin with the family, continue through schools and other groups and conclude at the penalty stage in the courts.