War declared on drugs as Chinese middle class goes mad on ecstasy

A "people's war" on narcotics in China has turned into a campaign against designer drugs after police found a surge in usage of ecstasy, ketamine and methamphetamine.

In a shift that may be down to a booming economy and the growing influence of globalised culture, Chinese authorities said this week the focus of their anti-drugs campaigns has widened from disadvantaged social groups - such as minorities, prostitutes and the unemployed - to affluent white-collar workers.

According to the domestic media, the public security ministry launched a campaign against "new drugs" - synthetic stimulants and hallucinogenic chemicals - which are popular in nightclubs and karaoke bars in the fast-growing cities such as Shanghai and Chongqing.

In November, the government will introduce new rules to crack down on the use of such narcotics, which are not clearly covered by existing laws. The new policy follows a sharp rise in seizures of laboratory-made drugs. According to the ministry spokesman, Wu Heping, police confiscated 370,000 tablets of ecstasy in the first seven months of the year - a rise of 54% over the same period last year.

Previous campaigns have focussed on traditional narcotics, such as heroin, in poor border provinces long linked with drug abuse, such as Yunnan - near the Golden Triangle with Burma and Thailand - and Xinjiang - close to the poppy fields of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Although dealers face the death penalty if caught, police believe there has been a steady growth in the trade in recent years.

No reliable figures exist to assess the scale of the drug problem. Official statistics show there were 790,000 drug users registered last year, though the actual figure could be in the tens of millions.

In April, the Chinese state councillor and public security minister, Zhou Yongkang, declared a "people's war" against drugs, but the seizures of man-made amphetamines in cities has forced a rethink of such traditional measures.

Officials have reportedly closed down 27 underground factories producing ecstasy and raided numerous karaoke bars - which are often a front for prostitution and drug dealing, Guardian reports.

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