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Amid Police Raids, HK Social Workers Take on Drug Abuse
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A series of images broadcast earlier this month on local television captured the scene: Underage drug users pouring out of two discos as police swarm around them. Hastily discarded drugs lie in heaps on the ground, and curses and shouts hang in the air.

A suspected drug dealer was taken into custody, but that was not the end of the story. The raid was only the latest example of the challenges the authorities face in curbing drug use among local young people.

In an effort to tackle some of these challenges, Caritas Youth and Community Service, a Hong Kong-based Catholic charity, has been reaching out to high-risk local youths through its Play Safe Healthy Life Project. The program combines anti-drug use and sex education with activities aimed at improving the participants' self-esteem.

Police attempted to combat the growing presence of drugs at local nightclubs by raiding the two discos in Mong Kok earlier this month. The raid resulted in a clash between more than 300 youngsters and 150 police officers. When the dust cleared, 100 packets of drugs were scattered over the disco floors.

Police ended up having to disperse the crowd and subdue several drug users by force. Though there were no injuries, the incident reflected an unmistakable resistance to authority.

But Chu Fung, project manager of the Play Safe Healthy Life Project, said that though young drug users might run at the sight of police, many of them are happy to talk to people who are willing to listen.

"They often just want attention during the long hours they spend at a disco," said Chu. "We'll take the opportunity to build relationships with them through conversation, and it usually works well."

Play Safe Healthy Life Project workers regularly visit local discos and carry out simple check-ups, such as taking the temperature and blood pressure of willing young people.

After winning the trust of a young person, Chu and his colleagues refer him or her to a doctor involved with the project for a detailed check-up and counseling on the side effects of drug use.

"We give them the medical point of view about the harms of drug abuse, rather than trying to dissuade them with moral arguments," Chu said. "Hopefully that will have an impact in the long run and put them on the right track."

Steven Ngai, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Social Work Department, said many teenagers are undaunted by police raids and consider them a cat-and-mouse game.

"In the surveys I've conducted, some teenagers told our focus groups that they were even provoked by the police raids to take more drugs," Ngai said. "The more pressure they're under, the harder they try to escape arrest."

Katrina (not her real name), a 17-year-old student who has been using drugs for two years, said police raids would not solve drug abuse among young people, since they hear about the raids in advance.

"The disco owners have their satellites (spies) outside the discos and along the streets. We usually get the tip-offs in time and flee," said Katrina.

Another highlight of the recent raid was the arrest of a 17-year-old girl who was two-months pregnant and allegedly selling drugs.

Tam Chung-hoi, a social worker at Youth Outreach, said some drug users are lured by the quick rewards into selling drugs themselves.

"It'd be even harder for these teenagers to quit the drugs, because they know the sources," said Tam.

(China Daily January 30, 2007)

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