The use of psychotropic drugs has soared in Hong Kong in recent years, especially among adolescents. There were 8,306 reported psychotropic drug users in 2008 in Hong Kong—up from 6,335 in 2005.
Most users primarily abuse ketamine, an animal tranquilizer that is produced illegally in China and Hong Kong. In addition, 20 percent of Hong Kong’s secondary schools have sought help on how to manage students with drug problems.
That’s where Zheng Sheng College steps in, a small school in Hong Kong with 120 students. Principal Alman Chan, who is fighting for a bigger space for the school, believes that education is the only way to get young people back on track.
“We have so many young people involved in drugs in Hong Kong. They have to be educated … schooling gives them a chance at life, empowering them, reconnecting them with society. Schooling creates a new status, they are students, not inmates,” Chan said.
After groups of students were found dazed and unconscious at beaches and in parks, the drug problem gained more attention. Experts think the worsening drug problem in Hong Kong may be due to easily accessibility, peer pressure, and aimlessness among young students.
Kwan Wang-yuen said his schoolmates gave ketamine to him and that he did it to socialize with his friends. He had his first encounter with drugs at age 12. Now 14 and a student at Zheng Sheng, he hopes to finish school and get a job.
Ng Ka-chun was 13 when his friends introduced him to marijuana, psychotropic drugs, and ecstasy. “I remember thinking (marijuana) wasn’t any different from a cigarette and then I tried ecstasy and ketamine. It was the same logic, they were quite the same as marijuana, they seemed less serious than heroin,” said Ng, who was sent to Zheng Sheng and a rehabilitation center after he was caught stealing.
He has learned to play the piano and guitar at the school, and is adept at handling audio-visual equipment. He hopes to finish school in two years and then become a teacher.
Chan says drug addicts tend to not have a purpose in life and that narcotics serve as a buffer. “Before, people just wanted to get rich. Now, they hide in their homes, they don’t need to go out, they order a pizza and mom pays for it. They have no direction…and drugs help them define their meaning in life,” he said.
But this can change with education, he said. “The ‘student’ status by itself is social capital. It gives them so much more to work for. That is so important for young people.”