According to the latest figures released by the Action Committee Against Narcotics (ACAN), the total number of reported drug abusers has declined from 2,692 to 2,212 – an 18% drop compared to the same period last year. The number of newly identified drug abusers has also decreased by 25% (from 479 to 361).

However, despite these encouraging figures, the report revealed that over half of the newly reported cases were young adults aged between 21 and 35 – indicating a worrying trend amongst adolescents.

Growing popularity of cocaine and methamphetamine (‘ice’) among younger crowd

Although heroin remains the most popular drug among all drug abuse cases – cocaine and methamphetamine (commonly known as ‘ice’), are fast becoming the much ‘sought-after’ choice.

One of the reasons behind cocaine’s growing popularity is its declining price – making it more affordable for the younger group. While the market price of one gram of cocaine used to be at HKD1,000, it can now be obtained for a mere HKD600. Traditionally, cocaine was seen as a party drug used by white, male expatriates. Now, the drug is widely used by locals as well. Apart from the plunging price, the abundant supply of the drug in the city has also contributed to the increasing use of cocaine. Addicts reported that it only took 10 minutes for the drug dealers to deliver a bag of cocaine to their hands. Even home delivery service is available for the drug.

What is more disturbing is that the younger generation are tempted to try cocaine. “Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant. When young people are under stress over having to study, there are some people who might not feel confident in their own abilities and they might turn to this drug,” said Sky Siu, Executive Director of the KELY Support Group, a charity dedicated to alcohol and drug prevention among young people. Furthermore, patients with eating disorders might turn to cocaine as well since the drug is an appetite suppressant.

Comparing to cocaine, methamphetamine is more damaging to the body as it takes a longer time to be metabolised. In spite of a 20% drop in the number of reported abusers of methamphetamine, it remains as the most common type of psychotropic substance abused.

"Despite a decline in the total number of reported drug abusers, the prevalence of psychotropic substance abuse, particularly methamphetamine abuse, still needs attention,” said Dr Ben Cheung, Chairman of ACAN.

Methamphetamine addicts often end up requiring hospitalisation after displaying schizophrenic-like symptoms of paranoia, confusion and auditory hallucinations. Comparing to ketamine, they are more prone to developing more severe mental issues. On top of this is the formulation of methamphetamine, which largely varies, and might put drug addicts at a higher risk of overdose.

UN identified Hong Kong as a smuggling hub for drug syndicates

The UN published a 35-page report last year, stating that there is an increasingly active trade of illegal narcotics in Hong Kong and the Mainland. Despite the full-fledged regulations in Hong Kong, its close proximity to Guangdong province has made it difficult for the regulators to suspend the supply.

Reports estimated Guangdong had surpassed Mexico in becoming the global leader in producing methamphetamine. A staggering 42 tons of methamphetamine was seized in the Asia-Pacific region in 2013 – a massive upsurge from the 11 tons confiscated in 2008.

Support, not shame: Drug abusers seeking rehabilitation

Worse still, reports indicated that there might be a large number of unaccounted drug abusers in Hong Kong, casting doubts on official statistics. One factor could be the fear of the stigmatisation. “They feel so ashamed… They do not know the solution. They are afraid their family might call the police, which is not a helpful strategy. We really have to try to tackle the issue of drug abuse hiddenness here,” said Angelique Tam, Director of the Society for the Aid and Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers (SARDA), a charity supplying pro bono support services for local addicts.

Dr Vanessa Ting-chi, a psychiatrist specialising in substance abuse said that stigmatisation exists even within the healthcare community. "If you stigmatise these people, they don't seek help; they will just hide away for fear of rejection," she emphasised.

"Addiction is a disease, but it is a treatable disease and denial is to addiction what oxygen is to fire," said Vernon Hartshorne, a counsellor at The Cabin, a drug rehabilitation center based in Central. MIMS

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