HEALTH

Hong Kong's illegal drug problem is worse than official numbers suggest: addiction counsellors

As officials tout declining addiction rates, drug counsellors say the numbers don't reflect reality

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 2:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 5:56pm

The extent of Hong Kong's illegal drug problem has come under scrutiny after front-line drug counsellors challenged official data showing a significant drop in the number of people abusing narcotics in the city.

The Central Registry of Drug Abuse says the number of drug abusers dropped 8,926 last year from 10,241 in 2013, suggesting that the city was getting to grips with the problem. But - just days after customs chiefs described as "staggering'' the rising amount of drugs seized in the city - those who deal directly with the city's addicts say the official figures do not reflect reality.

In an article published in the Post Magazine today, Dr Vanessa Wong Ting-chi, a psychiatrist specialising in substance abuse, described the official data as "a joke" only representing "a numbers game".

Speaking yesterday at an anti-drugs event organised by the Action Committee Against Narcotics and the Narcotics Division of the Security Bureau, which makes Hong Kong's drug policy, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pointed out that more than half of newly reported registered abusers had been on drugs for 5.2 years or longer, compared to just 2.1 years in 2009, a figure which showed the hidden nature of drug abuse.

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"Although the number of drug abusers has been decreasing, we cannot lower our guard," Leung said.

The drug abuse registry recorded a 12.8 per cent drop in the number of people using drugs from 2013 to last year.

By age group, 0.9 per cent of them were 16 years old or younger; 8.1 per cent were 16 to 20; 24.3 per cent 21 to 30; 27.8 per cent 31 to 40; and 39 per cent 41 or older.

At the same event, Commissioner for Narcotics Erika Hui Lam Yin-ming said official data showed a 30 per cent drop in the number of reported drug abusers between 2009 and last year. The decrease was as high as 70 per cent for those aged 21 or younger.

"It shows our strategy in the past few years has worked," she said.

Last week, customs chiefs described as "staggering" an almost 200 per cent increase in the amount of drugs they seized in the first five months of this year. Hui insisted this was the result of beefed-up law enforcement.

However, those working on the front line of drug counselling and rehabilitation flatly disputed the official data.

One drug counsellor, who declined to be named, said she was "shocked by the numbers", which "do not reflect her personal experiences based on working in the field for nine years".

But Raymond Fung Hing-kau, social work supervisor of the Caritas Hugs Centre, which helped drug abusers, agreed the number of young users had been on a decline.