As part of the annual event to promote public awareness against drug use in China, 10,000 people participated in a two-hour march from the Summer Palace to the Great Wall in Beijing to mark the U.N.-sponsored International Anti-Drug Day on June 26, 2006. At the same time, reports of drug seizures and execution of drug traffickers also made headlines, giving an impression that China’s drug problem is being aggressively addressed.
While these are certainly steps toward combating China’s drug problems, the reality may be far grimmer than at first glance. This is particularly true in China because the authorities usually keep a lid on negative news. Such a high-profile public admission is often an indication that the problem may already be out of control. Below are a few signs that point to the magnitude and severity of the problem:
• Over the last two decades, drug addicts have increased in number from virtually non-existent to anywhere from 1.1 million to 7 million, depending on the source of the estimate, and the number is continuing to grow.
• The majority of drug users abuse heroin. Over 70 percent are under 35 years old.
• Geographic distribution has spread from the Yunnan border area adjacent to the Golden Triangle to all over the country, and from metropolitan cities to rural areas.
• Poppies are being grown and used to produce premium drugs in some areas.
• Eighty percent of male drug addicts have committed at least one criminal act other than drug possession, and 80 percent of female drug addicts have been engaged in prostitution.
• Eighty percent of registered drug users have contracted an infectious disease. Over 50 percent of China’s AIDS patients were infected via drug use.
Despite numerous campaigns focused on rehabilitating drug users and harshly punishing the drug dealers, there has been little or no progress in stemming the tide. Drawn by the prospect of making huge amounts of money in a short time, more people are becoming drug dealers and getting better at it.
Many have blamed Chinese society’s moral decline as the root cause. In many instances, corrupt police officers are involved in the drug dealing, mostly providing a security blanket for the drug traffickers. By all indications, China is moving quickly toward becoming not only a big consumer of illicit drugs, but also a new center for international drug distribution.