Alarm at rising number of crack cocaine addicts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 March, 2008, 12:00am

Doctors and social workers are concerned about the rising number of drug addicts seeking treatment for crack cocaine abuse.

They are worried that the drug's plummeting price - down at least 40 per cent in the city since the middle of last year - as well as its growing popularity, is responsible for a surge in use in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the city.

Drug users have also told the Sunday Morning Post of being offered the drug for as little as HK$100 per hit as an alternative to softer drugs, such as marijuana. One user in the New Territories said there was an amazing amount of ignorance about how dangerous the drug was.

'There are people who have developed huge habits and just can't control it,' the user said. 'They are pushing it on people because it is all that is available. Even the dealers don't know how dangerous it is.'

Seizures of crack cocaine more than doubled from 2006 to last year, up from 2.3kg to 4.8kg. By mid-February this year, police had already seized 2.12kg. Last year, police seized 192kg of powdered cocaine, including a record haul of 160kg with a street value of HK$111 million, which was found stashed inside two containers carrying bottled mineral water from Panama in July.

The use of crack and powdered cocaine has traditionally been confined to tiny enclaves of wealthy professionals in Hong Kong. But the street price of cocaine has fallen to HK$600 per gram and, in some cases, as low as HK$400, from more than HK$1,000 in the past two years.

Crack is a dangerously addictive derivative of cocaine made using baking soda to convert the drug into a smokable form. Smoking crack delivers an instant hit as the drug goes straight into the blood stream via the lungs. This means a far smaller dose is required, making it more attractive to those with less money.

While it first reached epidemic proportions in America's inner cities in the 1980s, and then Europe, it had largely been absent in Hong Kong due to the prohibitive price of powdered cocaine. But police figures show that despite the distance between the city and South America, where the coca leaf is grown and where cocaine is manufactured, the drug is now readily available.

Ben Cheung Kin-leung, psychiatrist and chairman of the government's Action Committee Against Narcotics, said that five years ago he would have been lucky to have a single patient seeking treatment for a crack cocaine addiction.

But in the past year, he has seen more than 20, and with the increase of the drug on the street, he expects that number to rise. Dr Cheung said it was a myth that crack was cheaper than normal cocaine, but warned it was far more addictive.

'The entry dose is a lot smaller and you get an immediate high, but that only lasts for 10 minutes or so,' he said.

'But if you want to maintain the high for a whole hour, you need to spend the same as you would if you were buying [powdered] cocaine.'

Paul Lo Po-sing, team leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church's North District youth outreach team, said long-term drug users were taking to crack because they were no longer experiencing the same euphoric highs from party drugs ketamine and Ecstasy.

Price drop

The price of cocaine has plunged in the past two years

One gram of the drug has fallen from HK$1,000 in 2006 to as little as $400