Officials declare war on drug use

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2008, 12:00am

Alarming growth in abuse by city's young

The government has declared war on the use of ketamine and other illegal drugs among youth, which has been rising in recent years.

Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung unveiled a series of measures yesterday - from prevention, rehabilitation and enforcement to publicity - in a stepped-up fight against psychotropic drugs, substances that affect a person's mental state.

The measures came as the Action Committee Against Narcotics said the reported number of drug users under 21 rose by 13 per cent from 2,581 in 2006 to 2,919 last year.

They accounted for 21.6 per cent of the 13,491 drug use cases, the highest proportion since the figure last peaked, at 21.9 per cent in 2000.

Last year also saw the first time psychotropic drug users overtook heroin users in numbers. Nearly all young users took psychotropic drugs, with ketamine being the most used.

Mr Wong said the government would do whatever was needed to combat the problem.

He said a taskforce on youth drug use was studying the feasibility of conducting drug tests in schools, a move he believed could be promoted on a voluntary basis.

'If you manage to persuade a young person with a drug problem to undergo a simple test, he will realise the drug has very adverse effects and this is not something he should continue,' he said. 'He will then have the determination to get rid of it.'

The suggestion was part of the taskforce's proposed interim measures - requiring extra funding of HK$53 million - before a long-term and sustainable plan was mapped out by October, he said.

Apart from an anti-drug drive in June, the measures will focus on education, outreach, treatment and rehabilitation, and law enforcement.

A survey will be done to gauge the extent of use among students from Primary Four to post-secondary. Schools and social workers will be better equipped with skills and resource kits to identify and handle high-risk students.

At the district level, two more counselling centres, on top of the existing five, will be set up to plan anti-drug programmes that best suit that district.

The new centres are likely to be located in districts facing increasing drug use by the young. Yuen Long had the highest number of reported cases last year, followed by North District.

Teams reaching out to vulnerable youth will also get extra staff. It is expected that each of the 34 day and overnight teams will get one more social worker.

To facilitate treatment, Queen Mary Hospital will reopen its substance abuse clinic and a new one will be set up in Kowloon East. More treatment and rehabilitation places are also planned. Customs will deploy more drug-sniffing dogs at checkpoints, while police will step up online intelligence-gathering work.

To send out a clear message on the harmful effects of drugs, the government will drop the current Chinese terminology for drug abuse, which may mislead youths into believing a drug is nothing more than medication that will not cause addiction if they do not abuse it.

Paul Lo Po-sing, a social worker for youth in North District, said he hoped the measures would be consistent, sustainable and well-planned. 'For a long time, we have been ignoring anti-drug education in schools,' he said. 'We need a better long-term plan to change attitudes towards drugs among youth.'

He said drugs had become more easily available outside entertainment premises and in schools and housing estates.