Addicts choose crystal meth and other synthetic substances rather than heroin, authority says
The number of users of illegal drugs in the country is estimated to have reached 14 million, with half of them taking synthetic substances such as methamphetamine, according to the narcotics control authority.
There were 2.95 million registered drug users at the end of last year, but the overall number of users is estimated to be much larger, the National Narcotics Control Commission said.
The number of registered users addicted to synthetic drugs was 1.46 million. The figure has increased by 36 percent annually on average in the past few years, according to a statement by the commission that was posted on the website of the Ministry of Public Security on Tuesday.
Almost all of the registered drug users have been caught by police forces, said commission official Zhan Xingxiang.
"There are usually more hidden drug users behind the users who have been caught," Zhan said. "We calculated the figure for the total number based on our research."
Heroin, traditionally the most commonly used illegal drug in China, is made from opium. In contrast, synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth or ice, are made from chemicals, said Li Wenjun, a professor specializing in narcotics control at the People's Public Security University of China.
"This means the production costs of synthetic drugs are much lower, and they can be produced in larger quantities," she said. Synthetic drugs are available in various forms and-unlike heroin, which is usually injected-they can be taken orally, a fact that has made the use of drugs more attractive to young people, Li said.
Liu Yuejin, the commission's deputy head, said synthetic drugs tend to be taken by younger people instead of heroin, and their use has led to suicide and kidnapping in recent years.
Narcotics control authorities across the country investigated 146,000 criminal cases involving drugs, detained 169,000 suspects and seized 69 metric tons of banned substances last year, the commission said.
A number of celebrities, including famous actors and singers such as Yin Xiangjie, were detained by the police on suspicion of using drugs in the past year.
"Crimes involving the production of drugs are rampant in China, driven by the enormous profits that can be made," Liu said.
Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun, the commission's head, said on Monday that officials will tighten up the management of controlled drugs to prevent them from being used illegally. He also called for stricter controls of drug use in entertainment venues.
Li said it is important to improve education to encourage people to stay away from drugs.
Liu said the authorities will issue judicial guidelines this year on handling cases involving the manufacture and transportation of chemicals that can be used to produce drugs.