Tuesday, May 23, 2017, 10:33 PM CST – China

Special Report

Drugs Crackdown

VICE AND VICISSITUDE

China’s recent high-profile crackdown on drugs has won the country’s narcotics police some positive publicity, but increasingly sophisticated smuggling methods and the rise of new synthetic drugs pose an unprecedented challenge to law enforcement

Beijing police publicly destroy seized drugs on June 21, 2013 Photo by CFP

Singer Li Daimo appears in court on drug-related charges, May 27, 2014 Photo by XINHUA

Taiwan actor Kai Ko apologizes for his drug use at a press conference on August 29, 2014 Photo by ic

Early this year, around 40 public figures, including movie stars, directors, singers and screenwriters, have been charged with various drug-related offenses following a high-profile police crackdown.

Jaycee Chan, son of international kung-fu star Jackie Chan, and Taiwanese actor Kai Ko were the latest to be netted in August. Not long ago, a group of performance companies, headed by the Beijing Trade Association for Performances, came together to sign an agreement to bar performers with a history of drug use from appearing on-screen.

The disgraced stars proved ample fodder for headlines over the subsequent weeks, drawing plenty of publicity. However, in the context of China’s wider drugs situation in recent years, the arrests were only the tip of the iceberg.

Beijing Campaign

According to annual reports on drug control in the country, China’s population of registered drug users – who undergo forced rehabilitation in prison-like treatment centers – rose from 148,000 in 1991 to 2.58 million in April this year, with over half of today’s users aged under 35. Data from the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security (NCBMPC) showed that the proportion of young users hit 75 percent.

In big cities across the country, the percentage of young drug users is even higher. Beijing, for example, was home to an estimated 26,000 drug users as of May this year, of whom 22,000 were young people, accounting for 88 percent of the whole, according to newly-released statistics from the Beijing Drug Control Commission.

“More younger people are using drugs, or have become involved in drug-related incidents in recent years, since more new forms of synthetic drugs have entered the market,” said Li Wenjun, associate professor of drug prohibition studies at the People’s Public Security University of China, during an interview with State-owned English-language newspaper China Daily.

She added that the raw materials for new synthetic drugs, such as methamphetamine, are easier to obtain, and as incomes rise among China’s growing urban middle class, demand for narcotics is also growing.

Meanwhile, the country’s drug laws remain among the world’s harshest. Besides drug-related crimes that also exist in Western countries, like possession and supply, China also prosecutes those found to have consumed drugs, or allowed the use of drugs on their property. Foreign citizens found to have smuggled drugs into the country can be executed.

In recent years, the Public Security Bureau has reported a 10-percent average yearly growth in numbers of drug users being found in Beijing, and use of new types of drugs in the city is on the up, with no signs of slowing.

Crackdown

On April 22, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau announced a war on drug use and trafficking across the city, sending nearly 400 police officers to district and county police bureaus to try to tackle the problem.

In addition, the police set up a special informant system, encouraging the public to report on suspected drug users – during the campaign, police received over 740 tip-offs, which helped them formally charge nearly 300 drug users and dealers.

During the high-profile 100-day crackdown, 926 drug-related cases were investigated, 963 dealers were arrested and 3,400 users detained, a nearly 40 percent increase on the previous year. Police said that among those detained, most were either self-employed or unemployed, with only 0.15 percent working in the entertainment industry. They also reported that drug use had begun to gain popularity among low-income groups and people living in suburban areas.

In addition to tightening up anti-smuggling measures, the Beijing police have in recent years been working with their suburban counterparts in areas suitable for poppy cultivation, as local farmers have previously been found to be growing the flower for heroin processing.

Every June, during poppy flowering season, police in Beijing’s suburbs conduct field trips to see whether poppies are being grown on newly cleared land, especially in forests and mountainous areas. Since last year, these inspections have been conducted using helicopters and  drones.

“Beijing has become the front line in China’s war on drugs,” said Jiang Liangdong, vice-director of the Beijing Drug Control Commission.

New Momentum

According to figures from NCBMPC, drug trafficking cases in the mainland before 2005 mainly involved commonly known substances, primarily heroin. Since then, however, cases involving new “synthetic drugs,” such as ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine, outnumbered those involving heroin.

“Nobody had realized that within 10 years, users of new synthetic substances outnumbered those taking traditional drugs,” Zhang Xi, a senior narcotics researcher with the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told NewsChina.

In his research, Zhang found that, similar to overseas, synthetic drugs in China have gradually become less and less pure, with dealers “cutting” their goods with various substances to boost their profits.

During a field research trip in northeast China, Zhang said that he had come across a case where a user died after taking an ecstasy pill tainted with rat poison.

“It was a rare incident, but the trend should be taken seriously,” he said.

With the increase in popularity of synthetic drugs, the effects of drug use on the human body have become less predictable. Liu Zhimin, vice-director of the National Institute on Drug Dependence at Peking University, told NewsChina that new synthetic drugs are chemically complex, and consequently have a complex impact on human physiology.

“In addition to affecting the nervous system, they also harm the function of the liver, kidney and heart,” Liu told NewsChina.

Statistics from the Ministry of Public Security showed that from 2007 to 2011, users of synthetic drugs have grown from 16.1 percent to 32.7 percent within five years, and the figure is expected to grow.

The tightening crackdown on drugs has prompted China’s dealers to seek new trafficking channels, with courier services a popular option due to their lack of government regulation. Police revealed that a growing number of synthetic drugs are delivered hidden in packages of coffee, tea, juice and candy – police have also reported cases of drugs being smuggled inside electronic devices like fax machines.

Official statistics revealed that in 2013 alone, 443 cases of drug trafficking through courier services were solved in China, with 696 people charged with drug-related crimes and a total of 1.2 tons of narcotics seized.

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