Tragic cases of children overdosing on methadone will continue until medical authorities tighten restrictions on clinics, social workers have warned.
The case of a 22-month-old boy who suffered brain damage after drinking 10mg of methadone his mother smuggled from the Yau Ma Tei Methadone Clinic is the latest in a line of children drinking the heroin substitute.
In April, recovering addicts Ng Man-kwong, 41, and Ho Yuk-kuen, 40, were jailed for 31/2 years for manslaughter after their 16-month-old baby died after drinking methadone they had stored in a fridge.
The couple had found the child playing with an opened bottle and then found her affected by the drug but did not realise she was in serious trouble until it was too late.
David Cheung, supervisor of Caritas' Lok Heep Club and Wong Yiu Nam drug and alcohol addiction treatment centres, said most of the methadone clinics were overcrowded and underfunded.
Drug dealers would join the morning 'rush hour' of up to 200 addicts and take samples away for resale.
'There are often only nurses handing out the methadone rather than doctors and there are no checks on what is happening,' Mr Cheung said. 'It is common practice for addicts to keep a quantity of the drug in their mouths and take it out for later use.'
Mr Cheung called for stricter controls and longer opening hours at the city's six methadone clinics.
'This is essential to protect young lives,' he said.
Eric Siu Yat-ping, supervisor at drug treatment clinic Enchi Lodge, said recovering addicts wanted to take the methadone from the clinics for later use or because they worked when the clinics were open.
'This case should be a wake-up call to all those involved because these incidents are preventable.
'These cases keep happening and have been a concern for many years, but nothing is ever done to fix the situation,' Mr Siu said.
The Health Department said it had introduced new measures to stop patients taking methadone from clinics.
'We believe that the existing measures are strict enough for controlling methadone,' a spokesman said. 'Nevertheless, the department will keep on reviewing the strategy in the prevention of methadone hoarding at methadone clinics.'