On the eve of June 26th’s International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, leaders from China’s Ministry of Health gathered to talk to reporters about the country’s efforts to battle drug addiction. What came out in the discussion is that the abuse of synthetic drugs is on the rise, while abuse of more traditional drugs on the relative decline. There is special concern for what the Chinese have dubbed ‘new ice’ or “冰毒,” commonly referred to in the states as crystal meth.
According to Bao Yanping, Peking University Institute of Drug Dependence Research Assistant, crystal meth is preferred above all forms of synthetic drugs:
As of 2009, according to data released by the Narcotics Control Commission, there are 1.335 million registered drug abusers and 27% are users of ‘new’ drugs [synthetics], and this figure is rising very quickly: use of ‘new ice’ [crystal meth], especially, has risen very fast among drug users. Last year’s data show that China has more than 20 provinces where the amount of seized crystal meth was more than the amount of seized heroin.
One big issue with crystal meth and other synthetic drugs is that they are more likely to be mixed and used together than their traditional counterparts. Another issue is that the drugs are cheaper and more easily manufactured than traditional drugs. These two characteristics mean that synthetic drugs are most dangerous for already at risk populations because the mixing of drugs can lead to much more destructive health effects and result in behavior that puts people at greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases:
In the past we believed that drugs and drug users came in two basic groups. One set of drugs/users was central inhibitors, the other was central stimulants, and these two were always separate groups, they did not cross. But with the recent increase in drug abuse, new multi-drug abuse has increased, according to national survey on drug abuse. Drug abuse monitoring centers’ data show that 30% of the heroin user population also uses synthetic drugs.
In addition…sex workers comprise a very high percentage of crystal meth users. Combined with the use of traditional drugs by intravenous injection, the risk of of HIV sexual transmission is increased, so HIV infection risk may be higher.
Another group of particular concern is young people under 35 years of age, who are the group most likely to use the new drugs. The worry is that since young people under 35 are also the most sexually active members of society, the increased risk of sexual disease transmission likely to occur in the sex-worker community will also cross over into the mainstream due to the fact that synthetic drugs are most commonly taken in groups:
New drugs are abused mainly by people under the age of 35, and these people are sexually active, and the abuse of new drugs are mainly used recreationally, in groups. Such circumstances may easily lead to mass promiscuous sexual behavior or group behavior. Sexual promiscuity, however, is not likely to result in the use of condoms and other protective behavior, and these actions together likely to lead to HIV infection.
As part of the state’s major AIDS prevention, research and intervention strategies among drug users, including for new drugs, a study conducted among drug users, found that the prevalence of multiple sex partners, same-sex sexual behavior and the use and mixing of a variety of new drugs is likely to cause HIV infection.
This focus on youth and HIV is not surprising, partly because this year’s theme for the June 26th day against drugs is “youth and synthetic drugs,” and partly because HIV is still poorly understood and widely mis-characterized among the Chinese public (see also here). The connections between drug use and HIV are clear in some instances – like with intravenous drug users – and not so clear in other instances, so take the words quoted above with a grain of salt.
But, the focus is not misplaced. Crystal meth use has proven itself a hit with youth all across the world: the fact that it is cheap and easily made is the ultimate formula for winning over youth with limited money to spend on drugs and limited resources to travel to acquire them.
If this and last year’s focus on drug raids in Beijing and the other cities is any indication of China’s current attitude against the drug problem, people can expect such police activities to increase in the immediate future.