The government has been quick to introduce remedies in response to increases in drug abuse cases over the past 20 years, new research shows. But experts say it still lacks long-term plans to root out the problem.
A survey released yesterday by Caritas Lok Heep Club and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service showed a pattern of government curbs whenever the number of drug abusers in the city increased.
The poll asked 174 drug rehabilitation workers between April and May to choose from a shortlist of 28 the top 10 significant developments in the city's anti-drug efforts, and was published ahead of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking today.
'We found three peaks [in the number of] reported drug abusers based on government statistics,' said social worker David Cheung, of the Caritas club. 'And most of the [significant anti-drug policies] happened after the peaks as remedial measures.'
The highest recorded number of drug abusers in the period surveyed is 20,328 in 1994, after which the government opened six substance-abuse clinics - a policy that made it to the survey's top 10.
Researchers said the three key events that received the most votes were the establishment of the HK$350 million Beat Drugs Fund in 1996, the government's infusion of HK$3 billion to the fund in 2010, and the classification of ketamine as a dangerous drug in 2000.
The most recent spike in drug-abuser numbers, based on Central Registry of Drug Abuse statistics, was in 2008 at 14,241.
Officials implemented a drug-testing scheme in Tai Po schools, identified as drug hot spots, the following year.
However, Cheung said: 'Though [the testing scheme] was effective to a certain extent, many education and youth organisations [opposed it].'
Cheung said in the 1980s, drug abusers were mainly adults, but now the problem is in primary schools.
Another landmark development was the imposition last year of heavier penalties for driving while under the influence of drugs.
Polytechnic University social sciences professor Daniel Shek Tan-lei, who took part in the survey, said the government lacked long-term plans to tackle drug abuse.
Shek also said that respondents failed to identify the release of government reports on drug abuse, such as the Secretary for Justice's 'Task Force on Youth Drug Abuse' study in 2008, among the top 10 key events.
While drug abuser numbers have fallen from 15,216 in 1992 to 11,469 last year, Shek warned that the number of 'hidden', or unreported, cases could be higher.
Cheung noted that over the past 20 years, there were more cases of drug abuse among young people and women, a wider selection of narcotics, and a trend where the users are also drug dealers.