Youth drug abuse in Hong Kong

Youth drug abuse means people who are under the age of 21 are addicted to drugs, which has been a serious social problem all over the world. As we know that drug abuse not only destroys the physical and mental health of the drug-takers, but also leads to a series of serious social problems, such as family breakdown, crimes and chaotic public order. For adolescents who are in the physiological and psychological development period, they have weak psychological defense but strong curiosity. So if there is no correct guidance, it’s easy for them to fall into drug crisis.

In 2003 to 2008, Hong Kong saw a significant rise in the number of young people abusing drugs. The increase has reversed the trend of overall decline in the total population of drug abusers for the past decade. But the situation became more optimistic in recent 5 years as the number of reported and new drug users aged under 21 keeps decreasing (as the chart shows below).

Notes: No official data of 2013

Survey of drug abuse among students

In order to have a deep look at the latest situation of youth drug abuse in Hong Kong, I chose a survey report commissioned by the Narcotics Division of Security Bureau of Hong Kong which shows the reality of drug abuse among students in 2014 to 2015, with a comparison in 2011 to 2012. The ages of students in this survey are not limited within 21 though, I think the sample can represent the majority of young people in this case.

From the chart by age, we can see that the proportion of lifetime drug-taking students peaked at the age of 21 years old or above (2.5%). The proportion of lifetime drug-taking students increased with age, from 0.9% in those aged 10 or below to 2.5% in those aged 21 or above. Similar patterns were found in the 2011/12 Survey. Both the proportions of lifetime drug-taking students peaked at the age of 21 or above (2.7%). The proportion of lifetime alcohol-taking students increased with age, from1.3% in those aged 10 or below to 2.7% in those aged 21 or above.

In the 2014/15 Survey, the proportions of students who had ever taken psychotropic drugs and heroin respectively decreased to 2.0% and 0.1% from 2.2% and 0.2% in the 2011/12 Survey.

A downward trend in lifetime heroin drug-takers was observed in students of both sexes and across different age groups. However, slight increases were noted in the proportions of lifetime psychotropic drugs takers in students aged 11 – 14.

Except for a 7.5% increase in the number of “cannabis”-takers from 8 000 (45.3%) to 8 600 (59.1%) as compared to 2011/12, drops in the number of drug-takers across all psychotropic drug types were generally recorded in the 2014/15 Survey. Specifically for the three other most common drugs, the number of takers of “ketamine” decreased from 5 800 (33.3%) to 2 400 (16.3%), that of “cough medicines” and “cocaine” both decreased to 2 200 (15.1%) from 3 500 (20.1%) and 3 300 (18.8%) respectively.

In the survey, respondents could choose more than one type of drugs. However, it should be noted that the results did not show whether they took more than one type of drugs at the same time or on different occasions.

47.8% of drug-taking students claimed that the drugs they took were “free of charge”. The second and third commonly reported sources of money were “pocket money” (33.9%) and “illegal sources (e.g. stealing and drug-selling)” (17.2%).

In the 2011/12 Survey, “free of charge” (45.2%), “pocket money” (34.0%) and “illegal sources (e.g. stealing and drug-selling)” (20.9%) were the major sources of money for buying drugs recorded amongst drug-taking students of both secondary and post-secondary levels.

“Friends’/ schoolmates’/ neighbours’ home” (36.0% for 2014/15 and 33.3% for 2011/12) and students’ own “home” (25.1% for 2014/15 and 26.0% for 2011/12) continued to be the top two usual localities for taking drugs in both the 2011/12 and 2014/15 Surveys. Ranking the third was “public playground/ park/ public toilet” (20.2%) in the 2014/15 Survey, but “bar, pub or club” (20.4%) in the 2011/12 Survey. Apart from these, “karaoke room” was also a common locality for students to take drugs (15.4%).

“Friends” and “schoolmates” were two of the most commonly reported suppliers of drugs reported in the both 2011/12 and 2014/15. In addition, a relatively high proportion of drug-taking students claiming that “strangers and others” had supplied them with drugs was observed.

According to the survey, residential districts of Hong Kong with the highest proportion of drug-taking students were the Islands (4.9%), Central and Western (4.5%) and Wan Chai (3.1%). Residential districts with the highest number of drug-taking students were Kwun Tong (1242), Yuen Long (1075) and Central and Western (953).

“Peer influence” remained as the most common reason for drug-taking students in 2014/15. The teen social scene often revolves around drinking and smoking pot. Sometimes friends urge one another to try a drink or smoke something, but it’s just as common for teens to start using a substance because it’s readily available and they see all their friends enjoying it. In their minds, they see drug use as a part of the normal teenage experience. In addition, teens who can’t tolerate being alone, have trouble keeping themselves occupied, or crave excitement are prime candidates for substance abuse. Not only do alcohol and marijuana give them something to do, but those substances help fill the internal void they feel. Further, they provide a common ground for interacting with like-minded teens, a way to instantly bond with a group of kids.

How about the “hidden” drug  abusers?

As the data shows above, the overall drop of youth drug abuse in Hong Kong may be good news, but there are still some voices of doubt thinking that the finding of falling drug use among Hong Kong youth does not reflect the full extent of the danger of abuse they face. Jingan Young, a Hong Kong-born playwright and freelance writer, expressed her worries on South China Morning Post that in fact, there is still a large number of individuals who remain “hidden”- those whose problems are not reported or just refuse to seek help.

Young people everywhere now are under increasing pressure, to conform – and perform – academically and socially. In Hong Kong, it has reached an overbearing peak, where children need to achieve excellence just to survive. As a result, Young believes the best way forward for society lies in trusting our children to do the right thing. For, without trust, society cannot hope to open up this “hidden world” of drug users.

Data sources
The 2014/15 Survey of Drug Abuse among Students by the Narcotics Division of Security Bureau of Hong Kong
Drug Abuse Situation in Hong Kong in 2005-2015 by CSD
SCMP:Dark dangers ignored in Hong Kong’s youth drug abuse features
Featured image comes from

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