Published: 12:48, January 17, 2024 | Updated: 13:10, January 17, 2024
Li: HK must not be complacent about its fight against drug abuse
By Eugene Chan

Straight Talk presenter Eugene Chan (left) interviews Donald Li, chairman of Action Committee Against Narcotics, on TVB, Jan 9, 2024. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Action Committee Against Narcotics Chairman Donald Li is on the show this week.

Dr Li tells us all the efforts the ACAN has been making to fight against drugs in Hong Kong and reminds us everyone in the society should not be complacent.

Check out the full transcript of TVB’s Straight Talk host Dr Eugene Chan’s interview with Dr Donald Li:

Chan: Good evening and Happy New Year!  Welcome to Straight Talk! I’m Eugene Chan. Tonight, we’re going to have a crucial discussion that touches the heart of our community: the fight against drugs in Hong Kong. To talk about this, we have the chairman of the Action Committee Against Narcotics, Dr Donald Li. Dr Li is a specialist in family medicine and a chairman of the elderly commission. He’s also the immediate past president of the World Organisation of Family Doctors, Centre of The Hong Kong College of Family Physicians and past president of the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine. Dr Li dedicates much of his professional time to academia, in teaching both in Hong Kong and the mainland, where he has contributed to the training and development of family medicine for over 20 years. This evening, we have invited Dr Li to talk to us about narcotics in Hong Kong and whether Hong Kong can ever be drug-free. Welcome, Donald!

Li: Thank you, thank you for your invitation. 

Chan: Dr Li, I think many people in Hong Kong are concerned about our drug issues in the community. Maybe you can provide an overview of the current drug situation in Hong Kong. How bad are we? 

Li: Okay, I will not say that we have no drug abuse problems but there have been a lot of improvements. Overall, I think it’s generally under control because a lot of efforts have been put into anti-drug actions and this has bear fruit. It has involved educators, social workers, the public and all that. So, we can see numbers are actually dropping. Now, for example, if you look at the numbers in the past 2023, three quarters, compared to say 10 plus years ago, 2010, there’s a drop of 60 percent. That’s quite significant. But however, we must still remain vigilant because there’s a lot of evolvement, there are changing trends, and drug-trafficking agents, people trying to promote drugs have many different ways of trying to combat the situation as well.

Chan: Right, just now, you mentioned there is an overall decrease of drug issues in Hong Kong, in your view, what would be the main reason for that? 

Li: I think it’s a success of public education, training and then also providing the correct information. Because all along there has been the biggest problem of the false information about drugs not being harmful and that it can be even recreational. But then, I think throughout the years we have been successfully telling the public how harmful they can be and it’s not the right image nor is it of any use to society to allow this kind of thing to happen. And then, I think people are more aware of their own health and well-being and then they are more conscious of the harmful effects of drugs. Again, we are getting some results. Legislation, of course, and law enforcement, has helped a lot. Control, border control, and all that. So, many stakeholders have actually contributed to decrease in drug abuse in Hong Kong. 

Chan: Right and, just now you mentioned that in particular last year, there’s a drop of almost 60 percent. I mean, may I ask … 

Li: This is compared to 2010. 

Chan: Right, I see. Anyway, tonight we are inviting you as the chairman of the Action Committee Against Narcotics, we call the ACAN. Not all the viewers are familiar with this committee and maybe you can tell us something about this committee briefly. Why was it set up?

Li: Certainly, it is an advisory committee. It's non-statutory, it advises the government on policies. I think basically the awareness, drug problems can become more serious. I mean I think all along historically we’ve known problems such as heroin, you know which has caused a lot of problems in families, in individuals and all that. So, actually earlier the government set up this committee to advice on policies related to how to control drug abuse and how to even eradicate drug abuse. These are the objectives and so, this committee provides a lot of advice but also helps in resource allocation of the government. For example, the government has a big beat-drug fund to support initiatives to help decrease drug abuse. And so, for example, our committee has a strong advisory role to where the funds are allocated. We also coordinate between stakeholders, such as NGOs, government departments, such as police, immigration even, Customs and all that, to make sure all of them can work together with the objective to decrease drug abuse. 

Chan: Right, Dr Li. I must call you chairman now because I’m actually a member of the ACAN myself and I have … In addition to what you have said, we also have … the committee that has the presence of police and also the Customs who are actually checking on the border to make sure all the drugs … at least we try to stop them from coming into Hong Kong. So, in Hong Kong, our government does have a lot of advisory boards … I mean non-official members. How do you see the contribution of such an advisory to the government, especially under your leadership? Do you think it has helped the ACAN to be even more effective? 

Li: I think we have been effective because policies have been heard and then we go through, any initiatives actually. We have a lot of in-house discussions and we have a lot of experts in our committee, such as your good self and also others. We have representatives from police, for example, and also Customs, who can also give suggestions. And the Education Department, this is a strong part. Because I think in drug abuse, if you look at it, there are three issues. One is education and publicity, so that people know the harmfulness of drugs and the problems of that. The other is treatment and rehabilitation, so something to offer to those who already got into trouble. How can we help? And the third part is regulation and this is where police and Customs and all that come in. So, we are able, ACAN is able to coordinate all these parties so that they can work together effectively to hopefully achieve a drug-free Hong Kong. 

Chan: Right, Dr Li since you mentioned about regulations. Actually the government submitted a proposal to the Legislative Council in June 2022 for controlling cannibalism, so-called CBD through legislation and the new law has come into effect since the first of February 2023, just over 12 months. So, is ACAN all for the ban? 

Li: We’re all for the ban because this is in line of control of cannabis which is a dangerous drug. A lot of people do not realize or think that CBD maybe is not psychoactive and why we should ban it. Actually what we need to realize is CBD and something called THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – is actually a by-product of the plant. So, CBD cannot be isolated actually easily without THC, so a lot of time it’s associated. So, products that they claim that they only have CBD they also have THC. And so, this is in line with our control of this psychoactive drug. Moreover, CBD actually can be converted into THC. So, there is an area of abuse in this place and also a lot of impurities in the CBD products actually lead people to become addicted to it because of the presence of THC. So, we at ACAN are 100 percent for supporting this and we help in publicity and also let everybody know the reasons and the harm of CBD. 

Chan: Right, Chairman now that you know there’s a CBD being a dangerous drug in Hong Kong right now. So, what do you think the government should do to continue to keep the CBD products out of our cities, to safeguard public health. Because in the rest of the world, not every place actually has put CBD as a dangerous drug. 

Li: Exactly, publicity is very important and this is one thing we try to warn, you know, our frequent travelers. People who go abroad and they see these products and they think it’s just harmless you know, but actually they may contain THC. So, when they bring it back, they could be at risk under our jurisdiction. So, I think we need to be very careful and also continue our publicity, to let people know that there are all kinds of products which actually can be related to psychoactive drugs and can be quite dangerous. 

Chan: How about cannabis? I mean a lot of young people overseas do cannabis. What are your views on that? 

Li: It is medically, first of all, a problem. It is a drug. It has been played down that it’s harmless, but actually it does cause cognitive impairment, meaning you don't think so clearly, coordination, if you need motor skills, and hallucination sometimes as well. Actually, to the body, it is harmful and also affects the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, which is not safe as many people paint it. So, I think we must be aware of this and so, caution from trying to use this. 

Chan: Right, Dr Li, let’s take a break now. And, viewers, stayed tuned. We will be right back. 

Action Committee Against Narcotics Chairman Donald Li attends the Straight Talk show on TVB, Jan 9, 2024. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Chan: Thank you for staying with us. And we have Dr. Donald Li on the show this evening, and he has been talking to us about drug problems in Hong Kong. So, Dr Li, in the first part you have very clearly said that the drug issues in Hong Kong are improving. I mean that we have far less problems compared to like 10 years ago. And through education, people, especially young people, should be more aware of issues like the cannabis, they should be avoiding it completely. Let's talk about another drug called cocaine. I have heard that there is an upward trend in cocaine that builds, is that true?

Li: It is indeed, and it is very alarming. Most commonly abused drugs in Hong Kong, number one is heroin. Before it’s between ice and cocaine. Now cocaine has overtaken ice. So, we see the upward trend. This is very worrying, but globally, this a problem because the United Nations have indicated there is more supply of cocaine now. And then I think, again, the false image of high flyers, a success symbol, of being able to use this has been promoted wrongly. And this is actually very alarming because this needs to be corrected. Cocaine is dangerous. 

Chan: Right because I am sure when you watch the movies, you do see people taking cocaine to say they have made it or they are a very successful symbol. I am sure you have said it clearly that we must tell people this is not true. But what are the harmful effects of cocaine? 

Li: Okay, medically, physically, first of all, nasal irritation, you know people get serious problems of inhaling it. Of course, the hallucination, the incoordination. And actually overdose can cause death because it can affect the heart and the lungs. So, it is actually a very strong kind of drug that one must be very cautious of.

Chan: So with ACAN now, are we planning any specific plan to combat this?

Li: Yes. Publicity campaigns are very important, and we are, in fact, making some sort of short film clips to tell people the harmful effects of cocaine, and not to use it. So, again, the same approach, most important is publicity, education, letting people understand what this is about. And then also law enforcement.

Chan: Dr Li, the title of the show today is “Can Hong Kong ever be drug free?” And with all the effort that has been going on, predecessors in the committees and the government’s anti-drug enforcement agencies, why is Hong Kong still not drug free until today? What is lacking, in your opinion?

Li: I think it is not lacking, we are doing more and more. We are watching different trends, you know, different developments. But then on the other hand, those who are advocating drug abuse, trying to sell drugs, they are coming out with different means as well. So, we need to sort of match them step by step. And until we eradicate it completely, which is our goal, I think it is still quite difficult.

Chan: So, in your opinion, if we can think out of the box, if you are going to think of additional measures or changes that may be needed to accelerate the progress, anything that you could think of?

Li: Well, if we look at why are people taking drugs, there are some reasons as well, maybe lack of family support, emotional problems, mental state, and all that. So, from a health point of view, maybe we can do a little bit more, there is more awareness in the medical community of people who may be prone to drugs. And also, for example, the younger people that are adolescents, our educators can be a bit more aware and looking at potential drug abusers. We can stop it before it happens. I think this proactive preventive approach would be effective.

Obviously, drug abuse problems affect every individual, even if you are not a drug abuser yourself because if friends around you are having that, they could involve in more crimes, anything can happen because they don’t think straight, as you just said. 

Chan: So, is there anything you would like to say to our viewers, say to invite them to join us to fight this battle against drugs? It looks like you said education is so important, so this message must get across. What would you say to the viewers?

Li: Well, I appeal to those watching this program to join me in the fight against drug abuse. Listen more, look around, show your care, and offer whatever help you can to those who may need it. Overall, let's stand firm, and not drug out. That is the key message. 

Chan: Right. Personally, as a new District Councilor myself, I am always looking for ways to support the government and serve our constituency. Do you think that there is anything that you suggest to, the role that the District Councilor as it has just been newly formed, to help fight Hong Kong’s issue against drugs? What would you suggest to the District Councilors because we are directly with the residents??

Li: I think they will play an extremely important role and helpful role in anti-drugs. First of all, because of the contact they have in the community, they have been elected or appointed to take care of a group of people in the community, so they are more close to them, they have better opportunities to provide the correct information and knowledge. And also direct them for help when necessary. So two roles: number one, as actually a provider of anti-drug abuse services, working with us closely, and also a facilitator. There are many programs going on. For example, even in the district, they have the district fight crime committees, you know, which are quite involved in anti-drug abuse work. So, they can be more actively involved and refer them as necessary. And they can organize activities to even increase further the publicity of anti-drug. For example, you may know that there is a Hong Kong Jockey Club drug information center in Admiralty. I would suggest, all those different districts, that they can coordinate visits of the local community to this info center, which has a lot of high technology fun games and all that, to increase people's awareness against the problems of drugs, and also how to conduct a healthy living. 

Chan: I am just thinking because 18 districts in the whole of Hong Kong, they have different characteristics of different location. I mean they do behave differently because of locality issues. Anything you can think of to unite this? I mean anything that the ACAN can, maybe start a leading role? What are your views?

Action Committee Against Narcotics Chairman Donald Li (right) talks to Straight Talk show presenter Eugene Chan on TVB, Jan 9, 2024. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Li: Well, we can create material for District Councilors to use, basically education material, we do that all the time anyway in the public education sector. So, we can have sort of more useful manuals or film clips, or even high technology, to offer to them, so that they can reach out to the community, attract their attention, and deliver the proper message to them. I think from that way, more people can be reached.

Chan: Right. Another area that we always touch on in Straight Talk is the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area – the GBA. Now we are getting very close to the GBA, more so than ever. You can see people traveling a lot, we have got residents coming to Hong Kong to watch our fireworks, despite a bit of transport issue, I am sure they will fix it in time. How would you say that do we have even better cooperation now with anti-drug because we have law enforcement right across the border?

Li: All along, actually, we have been quite close with the Chinese mainland. We have been involved in the national narcotics control committee, organizations, and activities. And I think we are quite conscious of now our geographical location of Hong Kong, that we may be prone to more drug trafficking, etc. But for example, we have been involved in a center in Dongguan that has been recently opened up the anti-drug education base of the Greater Bay Area in June. And so that is a start. And we are organizing, for example, NGOs, schools, and all that, to visit this, and understand from a greater perspective, from the Greater Bay Area perspective, than just local, possible drug abuse problems.

Chan: Right. So, Dr Li, the last question to ask you is you are now the chairman of ACAN, you are a physician yourself, you are heavily involved in community affairs in Hong Kong. How confident are you while going to say Hong Kong will be drug-free one day?

Li: I am quite confident. And that is something that I will work on, as long as I am working for ACAN.

Chan: Right. Thank you for being the chairman. I am afraid we have to leave it here. And thank you, Donald, for shedding light on this critical issue of drug control. We must thank the anti-drug enforcement agencies for having done such a good job. And this is a good reminder not to be complacent. As Desmond Tutu said, “Drugs take away the dream from every child's heart, and replace it with a nightmare.” Let us each play our part in supporting the anti-drug measures for a safer, healthy Hong Kong, for our future generations. Have a good evening and see you next week!