Alarm as children at 90pc of schools admit using drugs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am

Youth drug abuse figures show that more than 90 per cent of primary and secondary schools have pupils taking psychotropic drugs. The security chief called the figures alarming.

They emerged from a survey, the biggest of its kind conducted in Hong Kong schools, that also found that drug-taking by secondary pupils had increased, particularly among younger ones.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said the survey, which included upper classes in primary schools for the first time, found a drug problem did exist at that level. He said the rate was not 'too high' but 'it is alarming'. His bureau plans to test public sentiment this year about mandatory drug testing in schools.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said the youth abuse drug problem was serious but not irrevocable. 'We will use all efforts to fight against this problem,' Tsang said.

The results of the four-yearly survey were released a day after the government announced in its budget an extra HK$3 billion for the Beat Drugs Fund to fund anti-drug programmes, treatment and rehabilitation.

The survey found 3.7 per cent of students - one in 27 - reported having experiences with psychotropic drugs. In primary schools the figure was 1.6 per cent, in secondary schools it was 4.3 per cent and at universities 2.9 per cent.

Four years ago the percentage of secondary school pupils with experience of such drugs was 3.3 per cent - one percentage point lower than now. The rise was much bigger among schoolchildren aged under 13.

Four years ago 2.4 per cent said they had experienced psychotropic drugs; now 4.6 per cent say they have.

Frontline social workers who deal with children and young drug users say the age at which children first try drugs has fallen.

Carol Ng Suet-kam, of the Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service's Evergreen Lutheran Centre, said the youngest user they had dealt with was a Primary Five girl who was referred by her school. The girl, now 15 and still seeking its help, first took Ecstasy when she was nine.

'She got the drug from her peers in the public housing estate where she lives. She never had the money to buy drugs,' Ng said. 'The ketamine she later took was given to her by friends. While you got drugs from traffickers in the past, you get them from your friends now.'

The security chief denied the government's efforts to tackle drug abuse had neglected primary school children. 'We will step up our education and promotion campaign starting from Primary One,' Lee said.

He said the city's youth drug problem was less serious than elsewhere in the world, since 22 per cent of British schoolchildren aged 11 to 15, and 47 per cent of Grade 12 students in the US, had taken drugs.

The survey results come three months after trial voluntary drug tests began in Tai Po schools.

Lee said the Security Bureau would consult the public this year about the need for mandatory testing of students. 'Mandatory drug tests are very controversial, they touch on legal issues, human rights issues and technical issues of enforcement,' he said.

Commissioner of Police Tang King-shing said the force would work with mainland counterparts to tackle the supply of illicit drugs.

In all, 158,089 students - 19.3 per cent of the total - completed questionnaires anonymously during the last school year.

As a result, it is estimated that 30,180 students - 3,130 in upper primary classes, 20,640 in secondary schools and 1,540 in university undergraduate programmes - have taken drugs.

Fourteen per cent of the students said they had used illicit drugs at least once a day on average in the month before the survey.

Of the 94 participating primary schools, 89 per cent had students who had taken drugs. Only one of the 112 secondary schools surveyed had no drug cases. Students at all 17 post-secondary institutions surveyed, included universities, had used drugs.

On average, there were five drug-taking students in each affected primary school and 32 in each affected secondary school.

The most used drugs among primary school children were cough medicines and paint thinner, used by 37.5 per cent and 30.7 per cent respectively of those who admitted drug use.

Half the drug-taking secondary students took ketamine and 35.6 per cent cannabis. Cannabis is most popular among drug-taking university students - 70.8 per cent said they had used it - followed by Ecstasy, used by one in four.

Wong Yam-wah, school development officer with the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations in Tai Po District and the father of a son who is in Primary Five, fears primary schools will be infiltrated by drug-takers.

'I will keep a close watch on him. With the internet and Facebook being so popular, you never know who your child is hanging out with,' he said.

Leung Siu-tong, chairman of the Aided Primary School Heads Association, said primary school pupils' exposure to drugs had become a more serious issue.

He faulted the survey, though, saying the finding that 111 out of 112 secondary schools had drug users was not representative of the drug-taking scene.

'There might be just one student drug user out of the whole student population at a school,' he said.

Meanwhile, a 16-year-old unemployed boy who offered to sell ketamine on the internet was arrested when police raided his home in Tung Chung, Lantau, yesterday.

The scores

Estimated percentages of students who take drugs at various levels

Primary: 1.6
Secondary: 4.3
Undergraduates: 2.9
Other post-secondary: 5.4
Overall: 3.7

International comparisons (%)
US Grade 8: 19.6
US Grade 10: 34.1
US Grade 12: 47.4
UK students aged 11-15: 22
European male students aged 15-16: 23
European female students aged 15-16: 17