On paper, Hong Kong has fewer newly reported drug-abuse cases. But in reality, police and social workers are concerned that the problem is getting worse.
'People these days tend to use drugs in more exclusive and out-of-the-way places, such as upstairs pubs or karaoke clubs. Some are members only. Or they simply take drugs at home. All these made it harder to discover and trace the problem,' said Hon Siu-wan, head of the Christian Service's Centre for Psychotropic Substance Abusers.
The Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers agreed.
'The venues for drug taking have become more hidden,' said the executive director of the group, Angelique Tam.
From January to May of this year, the total number of arrests related to drug offences went down to 2,252 from 2,610 over the same period last year. The number of newly reported drug abusers also fell to 758 in the first quarter, compared to 1,079 over the same period last year.
But Hon said the actual number of drug abusers could be two to three times higher than the official figure. She said in the past, fewer drug abusers would think of going into hiding, but the trend had changed.
'In the past, they usually took drugs in big discos or pubs in Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui. We could easily approach them. But now it is very difficult,' Hon said.
Gemini Fan Chor-fun, chief inspector of the police narcotics bureau, agreed. 'We have reminded all the police districts to keep an eye on hidden places,' she said, adding that public toilets in parks and staircases of old tenements were also now hot spots for drug abusers.
With the changed pattern of drug-taking venues, social workers now have to rely more on family awareness in reaching out to drug users.
'There are in fact more people seeking help at our centre. Some come by themselves, others because of their parents,' Hon said.
She noted that more parents now came to learn how to detect early signs of drug addiction.
Ma Shun-kwong, the superintendent of the police narcotics bureau, said they would crack down on drug trafficking as the summer holiday started. He said breaking the supply chain would be the best way to protect young people from drugs.
Hon agreed. 'With less supply, the price will go up. And fewer people will use them.'