SHANGHAI: Drug abuse among the older population is becoming a new problem in this major financial hub, against the popular notion that social ills are largely limited to the reckless young.
While teenagers and young white-collar workers still form the bulk of drug-takers in the city, the number of middle-aged and older residents who abused drugs rose noticeably last year, the Shanghai Anti-Drug Commission said.
Local police even uncovered a series of drug abuse cases among the older population last year, which formed "a significant increase" over previous years, the commission's spokesman, Zheng Yuqing, said yesterday.
But he did not state the number of such people involved in the drug abuse.
"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.
Unlike youngsters who often take drugs in nightclubs for fun, the older adults generally use the drugs, mostly "ice", ketamine and cocaine, as a stimulant to perk them up while playing cards or mahjong, which usually lasts an entire night.
"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," Zheng said.
Official statistics also showed that the number of drug addicts younger than 35 has been declining nationwide. They accounted for 59.7 percent of all drugs users last year, down from 77 percent in 2001, which means that the number of middle-aged and older drug users has been growing across the country.
"More and more middle-aged and older people take drugs because they feel lonely and empty after retiring or losing their jobs," Li Luyan, secretary-general of Shanghai Sports Association for the Aged, told China Daily.
Li said these people stand to suffer greater harm from drug abuse than young abusers since their bodies are more vulnerable.
"Their children and society in general should show more care to these people to keep them away from drugs," he said.
"They need more activities, such as sports, to fill their spare time."
Shanghai, one of the first places in the country that is experiencing negative population growth, is aging fast, with 3 million residents older than 60 reaching retirement. If drug abuse among adults is not stopped, it will spell a lot of trouble for the city, according to Li.
He said his association regularly organizes anti-drug campaigns in communities to boost awareness of the harmful effects of drugs among the elderly, as well as various sports events to enrich their lives in a healthy manner.
There were reportedly more than 48,000 registered drug addicts last year in Shanghai, up from 42,000 in 2008 and 8,000 in 1998. Newly identified addicts reached 6,212 last year.
By Gao Changxin and Qian Yanfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-11 07:46