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'Alarming' rise in drug users

WHEN Xia Guomei was working at home one day, a young drug addict called her, saying "help me." The girl had given her younger brother "ice" and later lived in fear that he was having hallucinations and losing control of his life.

As a researcher on drug issues with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, Xia gives her phone number to drug abusers to build trust with them and conduct interviews.

"Such psychotic young drug users are growing at an alarming rate," Xia said.

More young people are trying drugs for recreational use and sometimes these users turn into addicts, the Shanghai Anti-Drug Commission said. It said there were 16,000 drug addicts under the age of 35 in the city in the first quarter of this year, up nearly 20 percent on year.

Most of them use new drugs such as crystal methamphetamine hydrochloride, also known as "ice," MDMA, ketamine and marijuana. Each can damage one's nervous system and produce hallucinations. More than 75 percent of abusers of these drugs are less than 35 years old, according to the commission.

Abusers of these drugs rocketed in Shanghai by five times in 2003 and the number continues to rise, Xia said.

"The youngest drug addict I met is 12 years old," said Xia.

Nearly 10 percent of new addicts are under the age of 20, she added, based on sample research of 1,431 addicts at local drug rehabilitation centers in 2006.

The abuse of such drugs can lead these people to commit crimes or suicide when they experience hallucinations, anti-drug officials said.

"A severe patient will have a virtual world in his mind when the drug takes effect. He may imagine people around him want to murder him, and he will 'defend' himself," said Zhou Weihang, director of the commission. "A young psychotic drug addict can destroy a family."

A leading factor in young people trying drugs is that they consider them "fancy and stylish" instead of dangerous, the commission said.

"You often see media reports of pop stars using drugs, and young people will imitate them," Zhou said.

In a string of such cases, Zhou mentioned Beijing singer Man Wenjun, who was detained by police in May with his wife and 20 others for using drugs while celebrating his wife's birthday at a bar.

Xia said most drug addicts are not well educated and half of them fail to land jobs before they try drugs for the first time.

"When they have more spare time, they are more likely to go to entertainment parlors and make friends with drug addicts there," Xia said.

Among addicts of these new drugs, 60 percent only attended junior middle school or vocational secondary school, while the number increased to 75 percent among heroin addicts, according to Xia.

"There's no way out for them in the current job market," Xia said. "The only solution is an education system enabling these people to learn practical skills and to find jobs."

Luo, female, 25

Luo was lured into working as an "ice prostitute" in which she would take drugs along with offering sex services to clients. She took orders from a man who was later convicted of selling drugs, Luo, who was addicted to "ice," was sent to appointed hotels to meet clients and traffic in drugs. Luo was sentenced to 10 years in jail yesterday for selling drugs as an intermediary.

Ye, male, 30, Zhejiang Province

At 3pm on August 26, 2008, Ye got out of a taxi on Caobao Road near the Outer Ring Road and smashed passing cars with a heavy metal object attached to the end of a rope. He damaged 24 cars and was detained by police. Ye had taken "ice" that morning and was hallucinating when he damaged the vehicles.

Xia, male

After taking drugs such as Ecstasy, "ice" and ketamine over a two-year period, Xia became paranoid that his wife was going to kill him. He divorced her and married another woman. He went to rehab in Jiading District last year. After being released he relapsed and thought his second wife would kill him. He stabbed her and was sentenced to jail for eight years for attempted murder.

Jia, male, company manager

Jia felt uncomfortable after he took "ice" with his friends on May 1, 2007. He went to a hospital with his girlfriend the next day. Jia woke about 4am on May 3, talked to himself and jumped out of his 21st floor bedroom window and died on the spot.

(Wu Shen)


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