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[Editorial] Spreading drug use

Celebrities under police probe; doctor booked for drug dealing; drugs advertised openly

By Korea Herald

Published : Oct. 31, 2023 - 05:30

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Actor Lee Sun-kyun, known for his appearance in the Academy-winning Korean movie “Parasite,” and K-pop star G-Dragon of Big Bang are under police investigation on suspicion of drug use.

A medical doctor was recently booked on allegations of supplying illegal drugs to Lee and others. About 10 people, including Lee, a music composer and an aspiring singer, are reportedly being investigated by the police.

The two cases involving Lee and G-Dragon are causing quite a stir.

The police arrested a man in his 40s on Oct. 25 for distributing cards advertising drugs around university campuses in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province. About 200 handbills the size of a business card that were slipped in car windshields, doors and lockers are said to have advertised liquid marijuana as an "inspiring" drug. It is shocking that someone may have attempted to connect with drug users so openly.

In April, a group was arrested for tempting mostly high school students to try meth-laced drinks on southern Seoul streets lined with private educational institutes. They tried to deceive students into taking the drinks by telling them they were good for concentration.

Instances of drug-related crimes and accidents are unending. In August, a police officer jumped to his death from an apartment where he joined a gathering of drug users. A man drove his car onto the sidewalk under the influence of drugs, killing a young pedestrian. In June, a teenager who took methamphetamine was caught trying to force open an emergency exit door in an airplane.

These incidents raise concerns that the use of illegal drugs is spreading widely and indiscriminately.

Drug offenses are on the rise. Police arrested 12,700 drug offenders including drug users in the eight months leading up to August. This year's figure has already surpassed the 12,387 offenders held in 2022, itself a significant increase on previous years.

Not long ago, the police rounded up a ring of domestic drug dealers who joined hands with overseas smuggling groups in six other countries.

The amount of drugs uncovered at the border also increased. The Korea Customs Service caught 493 kilograms of drugs from January to September. This is up 29 percent from the 383 kilograms it found out for the same period of last year.

Particularly concerning is the increase of drug use among teenagers and those in their 20s -- ages in which drug use has been relatively uncommon in Korea. Illegal drugs are said to be largely distributed through social networking services that they are familiar with. The number of 20-somethings was 3,731, the largest share in the total number of drug users caught from January to August. The number of teenage drug users arrested for eight months was 659, more than two times as 294 teen drug users caught last year.

Considering celebrities' strong influence on adolescents, celebs must be held strictly responsible for abusing drugs. If they cause criticism for using illegal drugs, they would often disappear from the screen and return after a while. This must be stopped, considering the clout of broadcasting.

The government is fighting hard against drug trafficking, but drug users and drug smuggling are increasing rapidly.

Last week, the government announced a plan to form a team to devise special measures to eliminate drug smuggling. The team must more efficiently crack down on drug dealers and also make efforts to strengthen international cooperation. Particularly the police ought to crack down hard on those trying to sell illegal drugs to young students.

Lax clampdown on drugs must be tightened, but a scattered investigation system that impedes efficiency should also be reformed. Presently investigations are independently conducted by prosecutors, the police, the customs service and the Coast Guard. Creating a "narcotics investigation bureau" that will control scattered investigations might be a good alternative.

There are mounting calls for tougher punishment. The prosecution adopted a guideline in June that shows zero tolerance for drug smugglers. However, the court is generally lenient toward illegal drug users. Strong punishment is not a cure-all, but its crime prevention effect is undeniable. Considering the high recidivism (35 percent), the court needs to consider tougher sentences. At the same time, a therapeutic approach must be taken as well.