Working with young substance abusers: A harm reduction approach

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the drug/substance use scene in Hong Kong has been changing drastically, particularly with regards to young people. With the imported rave/disco and dance culture from the West, the number of young people taking Ecstasy (XTC) and Ketamine (K) has risen in the last few years. Taking Ecstasy has become just another weekend leisure activity for some young people and young adults. Without doubt, they do not fit into the stereotype of a traditional drug user taking heroin or cocaine. Different social service agencies have put their focus on seeking an understanding about the drugs situation among adolescents and young adults, and exploring effective strategies to combat this new "war on drugs" as a response to the worsening situation (Caritas Aberdeen OSW Team, NAAC Eastern OSW Team, CYMCA Chai Wan OSW Team, HKPA WC/NP OSW Team, HKYWCA C&W OSW Team, 2000; Committee on Substance Abuse, HKCSS, 2000; HKCS, 2000; HKCSS, 2000; Outreaching Service, HKPA, 2000). These studies have shed light on related knowledge, but the importance of a public health approach - harm reduction - was not promoted. Young substance abusers are always portrayed as deviants. In fact, adolescent substance users construct meaning about their drug use within the context of interpersonal relationship which is deemed very crucial to them. In short, a critical approach to viewing substance use/abuse as a complex social issue with specific political implications rather than as an epidemiological concern (an individual disease, a psychiatric disorder or even an implicit moral failing) should be taken into account when working with young substance users/abusers (Ettorre, 1992). From frontline practice experience and Lee's report, new approaches must be sought to work with substance users in a disco environment as one of the general "way-outs" - The "Say No to Drugs" approach has proved to be unsuitable for occasional or recreational drug users (Lee, 2001). It is important to invest some effort on determining whether a locally defined harm reduction approach in working with young substance users/abusers can be found in Hong Kong.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorking with Youth-at-Risk in Hong Kong
PublisherHong Kong University Press, HKU
Number of pages11
ISBN (Print)9622097618, 9789622097612
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


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