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Drugs

Donald Trump-shaped Ecstasy pills surge in popularity in Hong Kong as seizure of drug leaps by more than 60 times

Surge in tally for first four months of 2018 fuelled by expats’ demand

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 June, 2018, 8:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 June, 2018, 11:33pm

Seizures of Ecstasy in Hong Kong have jumped more than 60 times to about 30,000 tablets in the first four months of this year on foreign nationals’ demand, law enforcement officials said.

Amid the spike, ‘US President Donald Trump-shaped’ Ecstasy pills, a stronger version of the party drug long popular in Europe, have also been smuggled into the city. Sources said smugglers sent parcels from countries not typically associated with drug problems to evade attention.

The HK$2.2 million (US$280,300) in hauls from 20 cases have led to nine arrests so far. Customs and police officials only netted 486 Ecstasy tablets over the same period of 2017. This compared with 9,973 in the whole of last year and 5,861 in 2016.

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The synthetic psychoactive drug – formally known as MDMA and also known as “molly and eckies” – is a stimulant and hallucinogen. It gained widespread use in the 1980s and was commonly abused and trafficked at rave parties.

Seizures of Ecstasy numbered 283,568 in 2004 and started slumping from 11,984 in 2008 to only 170 in 2012.

“Local Hongkongers are not fans of Ecstasy as it is outdated,” a senior customs source said. “But many foreigners in the city still take this neat-and-tidy drug as it is easy and convenient to consume. You just have to swallow it and don’t need any applicators such as for Ice, crack cocaine and heroin.”

The source noted that two-thirds of the seizures this year were carried out by customs officials, with the rest by police.

“They think the effects from the pills last a very short time and are less damaging than other popular drugs, such as cocaine and bath salts. This is wrong.”

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British authorities in recent months have repeatedly issued Ecstasy warnings after seeing last autumn a steady rise in the number of teenage abusers rushed to hospital. Two youngsters died after taking drugs at a music festival in Portsmouth last month.

The customs insider said the recreational pills used to be concealed in air parcels from the Netherlands, a traditional centre for the drug’s production. But recently, smugglers have sent parcels from neighbouring countries hoping not to arouse suspicions.

The biggest haul in the city this year involved about HK$480,000 of 6,400 tablets concealed in a foot massager from Belgium. Orange pills cut in the shape of Trump’s head were found among the stash.

In the case, in April, local police picked up and arrested a 51-year-old Bahamian tourist in Yuen Long as he was on the way to pick up the parcel.

The ‘presidential’ pills – one side showing Trump’s face and distinctive hairstyle, with the other side featuring his surname – were also found recently in Britain and Germany. The drug was marketed with the motto “Trump makes partying great again”.

A police insider said most of the tablets they seized were found at residential or industrial units and most users were not locals.

“We acted on intelligence,” the insider added. “It also means the drug was seized before it leaked to the market.”

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Among all 7,651 reported drug abuse cases received by the Security Bureau’s narcotics division last year, only 26 involved Ecstasy. That compared with 54 cases in 2016 and 55 in 2015.

“This proved that Ecstasy is not popular among locals,” the customs source said. “Foreign abusers don’t normally turn themselves in and seek help from authorities.”

You never know the ingredients and concentration in a pill. One pill can kill
William Chui Chun-ming, Society of Hospital Pharmacists

William Chui Chun-ming, president of the Society of Hospital Pharmacists, said even a tiny pill was enough to cause an overdose.

“You never know the ingredients and concentration in a pill. One pill can kill,” Chui said. “Culprits could mix it with cocaine, heroin and amphetamine to enhance the psychoactive effects and addictiveness.”

Immediate adverse effects include dehydration and hyperthermia, Chui added. Abusers could suffer symptoms similar to heatstroke that could prove fatal.

The narcotics division warned Ecstasy usually contained other active compounds and could bring about anxiety, confusion and paranoid psychosis. Serious reactions could range from acute renal failure to death.

Security minister John Lee Ka-chiu said last month Ecstasy was not the most popular drug in Hong Kong and that large seizures reflected an effective intelligence system.

Lee added the pills were not mainly targeted at local consumers.

“The demand has not really gone up,” he said. “We’ve found that the pills will be taken out of Hong Kong to other markets.”

Under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, both drug trafficking and manufacturing are serious offences. The maximum penalty is life in jail and a fine of HK$5 million.