Broad approach needed to tackle drug problem

Regardless of the views of Hong Kong's party-going youths, drugs are considered harmful by society. That is why laws are in place banning their use and imposing penalties for those found with them in their possession.

There can be no sadder proof of the ill-effects of drug abuse than the case of 13-year-old Cheuk Wai-yin, who collapsed and died on a Mong Kok footpath on July 26 last year after partying at a nearby nightclub. The coroner, concluding yesterday that she had taken 10 times the lethal dose of Ecstasy and a considerable amount of ketamine, entered a verdict of death by misadventure.

That a life was taken so young through ignorance of drugs is regrettable. Her death will serve as a lesson for those who knew her or hear of the story. But as is the case with all substances of abuse, it will not alone deter those seeking to use them.

Getting the message across needs a concerted effort by the whole community, starting with the family, continuing through school and other groups in society and concluding at the penalty stage in the courts. There, the message can be delivered loudest to those who choose to ignore what they have been taught: that involvement with drugs that are illegal will lead to punishment.

If the comments by the coroner and, in a separate case, the Court of Appeal are any guide, it would seem that not enough is being done to discourage young people from taking drugs. The coroner suggested there was a need for greater efforts to educate young people about drugs. He said police should increase patrols of night spots frequented by youths to stem what he perceived to be a rising problem.

His comments were backed by outreach groups, which claimed there was a reluctance by some schools and parents to discuss drug use with children for fear of kindling an interest in their use. The same arguments have been made about sex education in school - with the result that in societies where such lessons are not taught, there are more teenage pregnancies and the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases is greater.


The Court of Appeal case highlighted another problem familiar to other jurisdictions in developed parts of the world: the high use of ketamine and Ecstasy by teenagers. Hong Kong's circumstances differ, however, in the vast quantities of ketamine that are being produced on the mainland and smuggled here.

With the two drugs being treated the same in the eyes of the law, the court considered the time had come in Hong Kong for a review. There is certainly a need for such a process when judges see increasingly serious cases before them.

Reservations about drug education clearly need to be put aside. Similarly, the penalties for ketamine and Ecstasy should be reconsidered and efforts to police their use toughened. With so many young lives depending on such steps, moving quickly is essential.