Drug crackdown must be sustained
The mainland has stepped up a crackdown on drug abuse, notably with the targeting last year of celebrities including the son of actor Jackie Chan to show that no one is above the law. When recruitment of ever-younger drug-takers comes knocking at the door of schools, the potential for long-term damage to the social fabric tends to galvanise preventive strategies as well as deterrent action.
As a result, the Beijing city authorities are to massively expand a preventive education campaign against drug abuse in schools, including international institutions, from July. Acting on a tip-off, Beijing police last month detained eight foreigners including four teenagers - some from an international school - for suspected drug abuse. This incident is unconnected with the city's decision to expand its campaign. But it has naturally raised concerns at other international schools and among parents, with one school writing to parents about the importance of anti-drug measures.
According to government figures on registered addicts as at last May, 75 per cent nationally and 88 per cent in Beijing were under 35, which underlines official concerns about the trend.
News of Beijing's campaign emerged as new official estimates put the mainland's total number of drug addicts - registered and unregistered - at 14 million. This included 1.46 million registered abusers of synthetic drugs including methamphetamine, ketamine and ecstasy, a number that is estimated to be growing by an alarming 36 per cent annually. Synthetic drugs account for more registered users than heroin and about half the total of 2.95 million registered users. But these are gross understatements. We suspect that, as in many other places, the overall numbers are considerably bigger.
The biggest provincial population of registered drug addicts is to be found in neighbouring Guangdong, which reflects the province's leading role in supplying the domestic market for manufactured drugs as well as export markets, sometimes via Hong Kong. Recent evidence of this is to be found in a report last week by the Australian Crime Commission that in the year to last June authorities intercepted almost daily shipments of crystal methamphetamine from Hong Kong and 277 larger shipments from the mainland - described as the primary embarkation point. The intensified crackdown must be sustained, and complemented nationally by the kind of preventive education campaign being expanded in Beijing.