Darker dangers ignored in Hong Kong's youth drug abuse figures

Jingan Young says the finding of falling drug use among Hong Kong youth does not reflect the full extent of the danger of abuse they face

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 March, 2013, 8:49am

Last week, Narcotics Commissioner Erika Hui Lam Yin-ming relayed the results from the Central Registry of Drug Abuse survey of local and international school students. Rather predictably, the number of reported and new drug users aged under 21 last year dropped by 20 per cent and 21 per cent, respectively, in comparison to 2011. The survey, the agency hastened to add, also showed a significant dip in under-21 ketamine and Ecstasy users from 2008/09 to 2011/12.

You may recall that, over the past decade, the number of psychotropic drug addicts so spiralled out of control that it even garnered its own nickname, "down in Hong Kong, down the K-Hole". Cannabis, it seems, has taken its place as the drug of choice.

The overall drop may be good news, but what about the large number of individuals who remain "hidden" - those whose problems are not reported, who remain unaware they have a problem, or just refuse to seek help?

The Hong Kong survey is problematic for a number of reasons. The questionnaire format ignores the individual and, arguably, is tailored to uncover a favourable result.

However, there were some revelations, such as the contradiction of the widely held notion that living in public rental housing leads to addiction. In fact, there was little difference between the figures for drug-taking students living in public and private housing.

And it would appear that "friends" supply both the drugs and the location to take them. Is peer pressure to blame?

Some argue that the problem is Hong Kong's general passivity with regard to the taboo. There are dozens of youth support organisations in the city, all with a strong online and public presence, and substantial sums are sunk into after-school centres. Access to them may be easy - but reaching out for their help is not.

Young people everywhere are under increasing pressure, to conform - and perform - academically and socially. In Hong Kong, it has reached an overbearing peak, where children need to achieve excellence just to survive.

Yet, even with all the talk about youths and illegal drugs, there is also the potentially more controversial issue of young people on prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication to consider.

There seems to be scant information or statistics for prescription addiction among young people. Why is this so?

One study conducted by the US-based Institute for Safe Medication Practices rates anti-depressants and drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as the highest for causes of violent and/or predatory behaviour. So, is easy access to society-approved pills another hidden problem in society, just waiting to explode?

Clearly, there's no one solution here - not proactive government measures, or a pre-emptive strike, and it certainly won't be found in routine "drug tests". The best way forward for society lies in trusting our children to do the right thing. For, without trust, society cannot hope to open up this "hidden world" of drug users.

Jingan Young is a Hong Kong-born playwright and freelance writer currently reading for a master's in creative writing at Oxford