It is as if nothing had happened in Cyber8 - the trendy nightclub, or, some have alleged, notorious 'drug supermarket' on Nathan Road. A few girls wearing colourful make-up and shiny outfits slip onto the centre of the smoky dance floor. As the music grows louder and the beat faster, boys with outlandish haircuts start moving along the rink of the dance floor, waiting for the right time to dive in with the girls. They are all young teenagers and exhibit a brash confidence that is probably missing when they are attending school. Outside the club's toilet, a guy tells his friends: 'Let's wait till everybody comes around 1.30am, and we'll start the real party.' Nobody seemed to remember that just over a week ago, it was on the same dance floor that a 20-year-old woman collapsed and died within minutes of taking two Ecstasy tablets in the toilet. The shop assistant from Mongkok, surnamed Ho, got the tablets from a colleague who bought them from a known dealer in the disco. Like many of the young drug users, Ho's death did not bother 17-year-old Ah Yan that much. 'I just take one Ecstasy tablet at a time. Besides, her case is quite rare,' she said. Ah Yan's 'adventure' with drugs began two years ago when she had her first mouthful of cough medicine at the encouragement of friends she met in an electronic games centre. She said the drug made her feel 'high' and killed her boredom. What's more, getting cough medicine was no challenge to Ah Yan. 'Even with my school uniform on, I could slip out of school at lunch time to a pharmacy in Causeway Bay to buy a large variety of cough medicine. The pharmacy owner knew me so well that he would sometimes tell me my favourite type was out of stock even before I asked,' she said. As her circle of friends at the game centre grew, Ah Yan also gained access to harder drugs, including cannabis, ketamine and Ecstasy. 'Ketamine is very handy when you go to a disco as it makes you relax and feel like floating. I can dance well even without knowing how to dance,' she said. The teenager said she was not deterred by police patrols of night clubs, stepped up in the wake of Ho's death. 'Usually, nobody would be so stupid as to carry a large packet of Ecstasy pills at the disco. When we see the cops, we will throw away our small packets of ketamine or swallow the Ecstasy tablet right away. What can the officers do?' she said. Paid $25 an hour for her job in a restaurant, Ah Yan said she used to spend all her earnings on clubbing and drugs. But lately, she said, she started having hallucinations. 'Sometimes, I heard somebody calling my name and turned around, just to realise that it was an empty room. When I was staring at the wall, I could see images. Looking down the floor, I saw lots of insects and worms. It really freaked me out,' she said. Because of the experience, she is now struggling to cut down on her habit, with the support of social workers at Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. Ah Yan represents a large and unhealthy slice of Hong Kong's young people who view taking damaging chemical drugs as nothing more than a casual social activity. Adding to the alarm triggered by Ho's death in Cyber8 are the trends being set by the likes of Canto-pop singers Deep Ng Ho-hong and Roy Chow Wing-hang, who were arrested for possession of cocaine and the party drug Erimin-5, respectively, in recent months. The arrests led to further probes into a number of suspected drug-taking celebrities and criticisms of the teenage idols for setting a bad example to their impressionable young fans. New findings from a groundbreaking study conducted last year by neuro-scientist Alfreda Stadlin, from the Chinese University of Hong Kong's faculty of medicine, revealed that 90 per cent of 366 surveyed club drug users under the age of 30 said they took ketamine, or 'Special K'. About 80 per cent of the group said they also used Ecstasy and a similar percentage applied to marijuana. Nearly 29 per cent of them said they took Ice and 14 per cent were users of cough mixture. Close to 90 per cent of those surveyed said they took less than two packets of ketamine or two Ecstasy tablets each time they used them. The favourite combination of drugs was ketamine, marijuana and Ecstasy. The ongoing study also found that most of the club drug users lived in public housing with their parents and were unemployed, with secondary or lower education level. The majority's first drug use experience was around the age of 15. The teenagers polled said that they mainly gained access to drugs from their friends, triads and drug dealers at raves and discos. More than 60 per cent said they had their first encounter under peer pressure, while more than half chose curiosity and thrill-seeking as the reasons. Although most of the interviewees in the study believed the drugs were harmful, more than 30 per cent did not believe they were addictive. However, figures released by the Narcotics Bureau showed a sharp decline in the number of young drug abusers reported to the bureau from police and from the case files of social workers in recent years. The number of people reported under the age of 21 decreased from 3,900 in 2001 to 2,122 last year. The bureau also found that 797 cases were reported in the first quarter of this year, compared with 668 in the same period last year. According to police, the number of users within this age group that were arrested for dangerous drug offences dropped from 1,831 to 1,051 between 2001 and 2003. Of those arrested, 611 took ketamine. Ng Siu-chuen, acting district operations officer, Mongkok, warned that summer appeared to be the peak season for teenage drug offences, as young people had more money and free time. But social workers said the bureau's figures only showed part of the picture. Although agreeing that the government has stepped up its anti-drug effort, they said many cases went unreported because social workers were only required to provide data on a voluntary basis. 'I never reported my cases to the government since I didn't think it had any impact on policymakers,' said one social worker. 'Another reason is that I want to protect the privacy of the youngsters. Many social workers are concerned that police will demand more information once we give them the statistics, which might eventually lead to the arrest of the youngsters,' she said. Brenda Chung Yin-ting, supervisor of Tung Wah Group of Hospitals' Cross Centre, which has helped more than 200 teenage drug addicts since its inception two years ago, said many youngsters began taking drugs when they were struggling to adapt to the transition between primary and secondary school. Easy accessibility to drugs is also hailed as a major problem. A partygoer can get an Ecstasy pill for between $60 and $100, and a small bag of ketamine powder for about $50 - enough to last the whole night on the dance floor. The operations of 24-hour border crossings since last year have opened a much cheaper route for many to buy drugs. Dr Stadlin's research revealed that 55 per cent of the 366 drug users surveyed said they had acquired drugs in clubs in Shenzhen. Paul Lo Bo-sing, leader of ELCHK (North District Youth Outreaching Social Work Team), said red light areas in Shenzhen were populated with 'drug supermarket' discos admitting customers as young as 14. His own study showed that 109 out of the 113 youngsters who said they had visited the nightclubs admitted having taken drugs there. 'Each of these discos has their own 'public relations' officers, who are extremely friendly with teenagers and know how to market their drug products. Some give free first-try drugs to girls,' Mr Lo said. The social worker said he was concerned that the drug users were not aware that the maximum penalty for carriers of drugs on the mainland was capital punishment. In some cases, mainland officers also demanded money before they released those arrested. Underground drug manufacturing on the mainland also posed a high risk for users, as chemical impurities and dangerous chemical combinations had proved lethal. Mr Lo urged both Shenzhen and Hong Kong Police to step up their monitoring of nightclubs. He also said that there should be more alternatives offered to youngsters than just an academic path. 'Studying hard at school is the only good things in the eyes of many people in Hong Kong. To them, skateboarding, playing in bands, and hip-hop dancing are all bad hobbies. We need to change our perceptions and encourage young people to develop their different talents,' he said.