Tox Tuesday: China’s war on drugs

Pills-in-Hand_ChineseFlag_blogIn an increasingly borderless world, technology and international travel have globalized the marketplace for new products and services including the illegal drug trade. In China for example, their geographical location makes them an ideal transit country for drug traffickers. This coupled with its large population, creates a massive market for drug consumption and has led to the extreme growth of the country’s drug offenses and related crimes in recent years.

In one recent article, officials reported that the Chinese courts sentenced 39,762 criminals for drug offenses in the first five months of 2014, up 27.8% from the previous year. This includes over 9,000 people sentenced to more than five years of imprisonment or even death, Ma Yan, a deputy presiding judge with the Supreme People’s Court (SPC), said in the article.

As reported in The Diplomat, China’s drug problem has historically been concentrated in coastal and border regions, especially in the southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, and Yunnan. However, the problem is now expanding inland and is growing especially quickly among young people. The article states that 75% of new drug users in 2013 were under the age of 35.

China is particularly concerned about the rising use of synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine, which are being sold or traded with fancy packaging to children. According to a May 2014 report issued by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, synthetic drug use is up all over the world, but especially in Asia.

Between 2010 and 2012, global seizures of methamphetamine doubled, “primarily due to the rise of seizures in East and South-East Asia and North America,” the article states. Methamphetamine use in China is not as severe as in other countries, including Cambodia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand but the report says that the number of synthetic drug users in China is growing the quickest.

That being said, the Chinese government is determined to prevent the problem from spreading and its arrest statistics shows just how serious they are.

In China, drug control is led by governments at all levels. According to the same article, in 1990, the Chinese government set up the National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC), composed of 25 departments, including the Ministry of Public Security, Ministry of Health and General Administration of Customs. Then in 1998, the Drug Control Bureau, which also serves as an operational agency of the NNCC, was established. Now, the governments of all the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities and most counties (cities and districts) in China have set up corresponding drug control leading organs.

In addition, governments at all levels in China include the funds required for drug control in their financial budgets, and along with the development of the national economy and the needs of the drug control situation, the funds allocated for such purpose are expected to increase every year.

China’s police seem especially keen on catching Chinese celebrities who use drugs, allowing them to send high-profile warnings to others. As reported in The Diplomat, the actor Gao Hu was the latest to be detained after he was arrested for possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. This follows the arrests of other actors and others in the entertainment industry.

While the vast majority of those caught in the drug crackdown have been Chinese citizens, foreigners are also being nabbed in increasing numbers. China Daily reported last June that drug-related crimes involving foreigners had increased more than 15% from 2013.

The Ministry of Public Security recently said in an article that police handled 1,491 drug-related crimes involving foreigners in 2013, an increase of 15.4% from 2012. A total of 1,963 foreign drug suspects were arrested, an increase of 17.3%. These statistics could create diplomatic issues according to the article, as China’s harsh penalties for drug-related crimes, including execution, are anything but agreed upon worldwide.

Cui Qingchao, deputy director of the Guangzhou customs anti-smuggling department, said foreign traffickers obtained the drug methamphetamine cheaply in the Guangdong cities of Lufeng and Jieyang. They also hired unemployed locals and expectant mothers to transport drugs to other countries.

“After obtaining drugs from these drug lords, they usually hire foreign traffickers who hide the drugs in their bodies or luggage. They take the drugs to Beijing and Shanghai or send them to Guangdong and other provinces through express mail services,” Cui added in the article. He added that further investigations and interrogation are difficult because of the language barriers.

According to China’s criminal law code, death sentences can be handed out for anyone caught “smuggling, trafficking in, transporting or manufacturing opium of not less than 1,000 grams, or heroin or methylbenzedrine of not less than 50 grams or other narcotic drugs of large quantities.” There is also a 15 year mandatory sentence (up to a life sentence) and the confiscation of all one’s property for anyone caught smuggling narcotics in these quantities.

Although pre-employment drug testing has become a widely accepted practice in U.S. and some European countries, according to sources, it is not a common practice for Chinese employers. Such testing is well regulated by both federal and state employment laws in U.S. which are very different throughout China. However, as drug problems in the area continue to grow, enacting workplace drug-testing has been one of the several considerations those reporting on the situation have discussed.

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