HUNDREDS of drug addicts stream into the clinic of Mongkok psychiatrist Benjamin Lai - but what is most striking is that many of them are just children. Girls of 15 ask him to help them kick their heroin habit; 10-year-old boys speak of the first time they 'chased the dragon' and many need sick-leave certificates for school. Dr Lai, a research committee member of Action Committee Against Narcotics, has treated more than 80 young drug addicts in the last 10 months. Many are students from the New Territories. 'Taking drugs indicates there is a need which is being fed with the wrong thing. It is impossible to help them kick the habit if you don't first give them psychological help,' he said. Dr Lai recalled working with a girl who first tried heroin on her 15th birthday. Her fear of telling her family drew her into deeper addiction. She was detoxified, but the lack of communication in her family has driven her back to the habit. Dr Lai said the case typified the problems facing young addicts. 'Young drug addicts who don't want to go on the government methadone programme, and don't like the drug centres operated by the Government, do not have many options left,' he said. Despite a new campaign spearheaded by Governor Chris Patten to battle addiction among the young, social workers say drug use is rising, and addicts are younger than ever. One 10-year-old told his social worker: 'I feel happy on heroin.' During nine months of observation he never showed remorse, nor acknowledged that taking drugs was wrong. 'He tells me that he feels 'high' even though he is vomiting badly after taking heroin,' the social worker said. 'To emulate other street kids, he would do just anything.' The boy's two elder sisters, aged 12 and 14, had become addicted and passed on the habit. The youngster had become aggressive and had begun vandalising property. His family of seven lives in a Tuen Mun public housing estate. His father is a heavy gambler, and both parents work as cleaners, the social worker said. Earlier this year, the boy's 14-year-old sister left home and has not been seen since. Dr Lai deals with his young charges with a mixture of psychiatric counselling, prescriptions to ease withdrawal pain and consultations with parents. 'It relies very much on the youth's determination to stop taking drugs, how deep they're in the addiction and how much support they got from their family,' Dr Lai said. Christian Zheng Sheng Association director Jacob Lam Hay-sing said the number of 14-year-olds being counselled for their addiction indicated there were many 10-year-old addicts 'in hiding'. 'You can allow three to four years before a young drug addict comes forward for help, when they feel they're desperate,' he said. 'In the early years when, for example, a 10-year-old is trying the drug, he may not be aware of the trauma ahead and less likely seek help.'