Asia Minute: China’s Drug Use

Mar 28, 2017

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Heroin use in the United States has been on the rise, connected to a national epidemic of opioid abuse. China is facing a different kind of drug issue and authorities are beginning to talk about it more openly than in the past. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


China’s government estimates there are about two and a half million drug users in the country. An increase of about 7 percent from a year ago.

Some critics say that estimate is likely to be a low number based on incomplete information.

By comparison, the National Institute on Drug Abuse puts the number of drug users in the United States at nearly 25 million—more than nine percent of the population.

In China, public discussion of drug use is still a relatively new concept.

Several years ago, Human Rights Watch blasted China for what it called “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of drug addicts.

Two years ago, the central government launched a program of community-based drug rehabilitation centers.

This week, government officials said about 81,000 staff and volunteers work at those centers.

China’s National Narcotics Control Commission reported this week that heroin use is still growing, but at a slower pace than a year ago. The Commission says addiction to synthetic drugs is increasing at an alarming rate, with seizures last year up more than 100 percent from a year earlier.

That category ranges from the synthetic form of opioid known as fentanyl to methamphetamine.

Law enforcement is also increasing—with China’s government reporting nearly 170,000 drug-related arrests for production or trafficking in 2016.