MIDDLE-AGED Shanghai residents are turning to ketamine, cocaine and methamphetamine to sustain them through marathon sessions of mahjong and cards, a state newspaper has warned.
Until now, Chinese authorities have focused on drug abuse by the young and reckless, and while most users in the city are teenagers and young professionals, officials say a growing number of older inhabitants are turning to drugs as well.
Zheng Yuqing, spokesman for the Shanghai Anti-Drugs Commission, told China Daily that there had been a ''significant increase'' in cases among the middle-aged, although he declined to give figures.
''Most of the older victims, aged between 40 and 60, are unemployed or retired and so have plenty of spare time. They are often not well educated and have little awareness of the harm caused by taking drugs,'' he said.
The newspaper said many older people used drugs as a stimulant during card-playing and mahjong sessions, which often last all night. Gambling is often a major part of the lure, although it is illegal on the mainland.
''The drug-taking mostly occurs among groups in card rooms, a place popular among the elderly where they can get together and play cards.
''The addicts are often friends who have known each other for years,'' Mr Zheng said.
According to the report, the proportion of drug addicts under 35 has declined from 77 per cent nationwide in 2001, to under 60 per cent last year.
Shanghai has a rapidly greying population. More than a fifth of its residents are over 60.
''More and more middle-aged and older people take drugs because they feel lonely and empty after retiring or losing their jobs,'' Li Luyan, the secretary-general of Shanghai Sports Association for the Aged, told the newspaper. Such users were at greater risk of harm because their bodies were less resilient.
Mahjong games can tax even youthful participants. Last year a 30-year-old man in Guizhou province slipped into a coma after playing for 32 hours non-stop.
February 13, 2010