Drugs: a growing threat to young
DRUG abuse in the territory has hit record levels over the past year, with figures from the Central Registry for Drug Abuse showing a 39.9 per cent increase in new addicts, and an increase in addicts under the age of 21 of 51 per cent.
In the last three weeks alone drug abuse has taken the lives of two school children, and four girls, aged between 13 and 15, were found taking drugs inside a public housing estate meter-room in Kwai Chung.
Two weeks ago, a 13-year-old Form Two pupil was referred to the police for concealing heroin in school and early last week, a 14-year-old girl and a young man died from a drug overdose.
The Central Registry only accounts for drug users who have signed up for the services of the treatment agencies, the actual number of abusers is likely to be much higher.
Hong Kong has established a good system for monitoring trends in drug use, with the objective of analysing the reasons for changes.
In the past, young drug users have been a tiny proportion of the juvenile population. But, there is a growing trend of drug abuse in the territory.
This may be partly explained by improved detection rather than a real increase in drug taking, but the underlying trend remains. The existing maximum penalty for the illegal sale of dangerous substances is only $30,000, plus a 12-month jail term.
This cannot be expected to produce a strong deterrent, particularly when few dispensaries supplying dangerous substances to young people have their licences revoked or legal action taken against them.
Fines seldom amount to more than a few thousand dollars, which is insignificant compared to the huge profits that the illegal sale of lethal drugs can generate.
At the law enforcement level, there are only around 10 inspectors to carry out raids on close to 3,000 dispensaries and medicine companies.
If dangerous drugs continue to be so easily available, schoolchildren will fall easy prey.
The Government must spend more resources on programmes to prevent youngsters becoming hooked on drugs.
This can hardly be achieved with the mere $1.78 million allocated for preventive education and publicity. The scope and complexity of the territory's drug abuse problem has to be first accepted by students, parents, schools, and the Government before itcan be effectively tackled.
Some social workers have expressed criticism at the lukewarm response from some school heads to offers of help.
If this is the case, a serious initiative should be launched to enlist all those who have a role to play in combating the misuse of drugs by teenagers.
A bigger effort is needed to awaken parents to their responsibilities and to give teachers more innovative training in methods to deal with drug-related problems.
If parents and schools are unwilling or unable to talk about the subject openly and objectively, it will be difficult for children to develop a clear view of what drug abuse is all about.
Teenagers seldom realise the pain and suffering that results from taking drugs until it is too late.
A worrying aspect of the increase in the number of youngsters taking drugs is that it takes a long time before anyone realises a drug user has a problem.
On average, last year users who reported taking drugs had been on substances for more than three years before the time of making the report.
Plans by the Action Committee Against Narcotics to open a new treatment centre for addicts under the age of 21 is a welcome move, but should be viewed as nothing more than a brave start.
The Government should gather together all the concerned parties to ensure that our school children grow up in an atmosphere where they are given the best possible care and education, free from the temptations of harmful drugs.
A serious initiative should be launched to enlist all those who have a role to play in combating the misuse of drugs by teenagers