24 December 2004
The Standard

A substance known as “special K” is springing up as the drug of choice among Hong Kong adolescents, a new government report revealed on Thursday.

Adolescent abuse of ketamine, a rapid-acting human and animal anaesthetic, rose by two-thirds from last year, according to SAR narcotics bureau data.

“This is unique in the sense that in other countries like the US and Europe, ketamine is very rarely used,” said SAR narcotics commissioner Rosanna Ure.

She attributed the territory’s use of the drug to its proximity to Chinese and Southeast Asian regions where the drugs are manufactured.

Ketamine is yet another in a succession of trendy drugs, which included LSD in the mid-1990s and Ecstasy around the millennium, used by Hong Kong’s late-night young party-goers, Ure said.

According to the data, ketamine use reached its peak in 2001 and 2002, then dropped for one year, but in 2004 has shot up again. In 2003, 1,326 cases were reported compared to 2,057 cases this year.

By September 2004, 49 kilograms of ketamine had already been seized _ set to pass the 51 kilograms seized in the whole of 2003, according to the Police Public Relations Branch.

A new Hong Kong University study underscores the drug’s capacity to cause addiction and wreak havoc on the brain.

“In the long run, ketamine has a very addictive effect and damages brain cells, memory, and fine motor fun- ctioning,” said Dr Ronald Chen, professor of psychiatry at the University of Hong Kong.

Ketamine, which is common at clubs and rave parties, is known on the street as “K”, “special K,” and “ket”.

Abusers, who can take the drug intravenously or in a capsule, typically hallucinate, showing loss of co- ordination, aggressive and violent behaviour, slurred speech, and a blank stare.

“While heroin is the drug of choice for most older people, the price of ketamine is really cheap and a lot of young people think it isn’t very addictive,” said Daniel Shek, chairman of the Action Committee Against Narcotics.

Despite the 2004 rise in ketamine use in Hong Kong, the overall number of reported drug abuse offences declined by 6.5 per cent for the year from 12,838 to 12,003. Approximately 80 per cent of drug users in these cases were men.

Among adults, heroin is used five times more often than ketamine, the data revealed but between 2002 and 2004 the number of reported heroin incidents dropped from 10,211 to 8,430.

The Action Committee Against Narcotics said youngsters, particularly girls, were being given free samples of psychotropic drugs to get them hooked.

It also warned of a resurgence in cocaine use, with 60 kilograms seized so far this year.