ANTI-DRUG advisers have called for tough laws to shut unscrupulous pharmacies selling soft drugs to youngsters without doctors' prescriptions. And traffickers who make use of young people to help smuggle drugs should face life imprisonment, a member of the Action Committee Against Narcotics, Justein Wong Chun, said. His call came amid increases in the number of young abusers in recent years. Figures show the average age of abusers has been dropping by about one year every year. The Central Registry of Drug Abuse figures show a 200 per cent rise in the number of drug addicts under 21 over the past six years. And, in the first quarter of this year, 1,233 drug abusers under 21 were recorded. Heroin, cannabis and cough syrup are the main substances abused. Ten years ago, the average age of drug abusers reported for the first time was 32; it dropped to 22 last year, with the youngest being nine. Mr Wong warned the Government could soon lose control and called for an immediate crackdown on over-the-counter, illegal drug sales. Sleeping pills or cough syrup could easily be bought at chemists without prescriptions. Last year, six youths, aged 10 to 19, died from drug overdoses, compared with four in 1993. Mr Wong said: 'The Government should consider following the example of tackling brothels to shut pharmacies which have been repeatedly convicted of illegally selling drugs to young people. 'For example, the police can ask the court for a six-month closure order so that the shop cannot do wrong during the period and this can also cut its income to zero.' He said the present practice of charging shopkeepers was useless because shops could continue selling drugs and the owners continued to make profits. Some small-scale pharmacies condemned Mr Wong's proposal as 'feudal' and 'dictatorial'. The owner of Yat Ting Ho Dispensary in Hunghom said: 'Why should the owner be held responsible if it was only his shop assistant selling the drugs without the boss' knowledge?' A Narcotics Division spokesman said the Government was aware of the need for a heavier penalty but wanted it to be achieved 'step by step'. 'Lately, the Government has passed a new regulation requiring people to have their identity cards registered when buying cough medicine,' said the spokesman. The PS33 Centre for Psychotropic Substance Abusers - a treatment centre for youth drug abusers - said more money should be spent on preventive education. 'We have to reduce the supply and demand at the same time,' said the centre's supervisor, Rainbow Cheung Kam-hung. 'It will only lead to rising prices if we cut the supply alone.' Governor Chris Patten admitted at an international conference last December that efforts to fight drug abuse in schools were failing. In March, he announced a $30 million package covering law enforcement, education, and rehabilitation.