Fri, 18 Aug 2000

An uphill drugs battle

No matter how much money and effort goes into the fight against drugs, there is not the slightest sign that the "good guys" are winning.

Every year, new concoctions arrive on the scene and the price for the old favorites continues to decline. Many, perhaps most, teenagers in the developed world will experiment with drugs at some time or another. Certainly there is no problem of availability, even if there are still plenty of young people with the strength of character to do what the government publicity machine urges and "just say no".

Lack of money used to be the main deterrent for teenagers from working-class homes. Now that ketamine has arrived, money has ceased to be a problem. If, as a recent survey claims, 10-year- olds receive about $2,300 pocket money per month, it will not make much of a hole in the pockets of their older siblings to pay the $50 it costs to buy a wrap of horse medicine.

But the zombie-like paralysis that this animal tranquilizer can induce is rather different from the effects of more conventional drugs. No fatalities have been recorded from its use so far. The puzzling question is why anyone would wish to repeat that kind of experience more than once, if at all. But the drug's popularity is rising so rapidly that it has to be assumed it will remain on the scene, expanding the drug culture from the middle classes to the public housing estates.

Its popularity may decline once the novelty factor has worn off, and ketamine is listed as a dangerous drug, as it will be by the end of the year. But if cheapness is the attraction, it is probably here to stay. For those for whom money is not a problem there is a ready supply of designer drugs and natural substances.

Admittedly, the authorities make impressive hauls from time to time. But for every arrest, there must be 10 dealers or manufacturers ready to fill the gap. And while the profits from drug-pushing are so vast, that is how it will remain.

-- The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong