The youth drug problem in Japan

I frequently hear foreigners swear there isn’t a drug problem here in Japan. Well apparently, recent media news reports about arrests of university students for drug possession contradict that view.

The media might never have picked up on the stories if it hadn’t been for the fact that these students all come from prestigious universities, Waseda University, Tokyo University of Science, Doshisha University, Keio University. But it leaves one wondering what’s the exact youth drug abuse situation across all the universities and colleges in Japan and at schools as well.

Here in Japan as is the case the world over, drug abuse is increasing among young people.

 

Background on drug problems in Japan

 

Drug problems were unheard of in Japan until the latter half of the 1940s, when cases of the abuse of a stimulant called philopon occurred. Heroin abuse was known in the latter half of the 1950s. But it was really in the late 1970s, that stimulant abuse re-surfaced, that has continued and reached a high level today. Stimulant abuse shows no signs of abating.

 

In Japan in the 1950s, drug abuse was not seen at all among adolescents, particularly among junior and senior high school students. In 1987, the Drug Abuse Prevention Center was established after receiving Japanese Cabinet approval, as a juridical foundation and nongovernmental organization, to promote drug abuse prevention activities to the government and the general public. Through its national campaign of drug abuse prevention and education activities, the Center promotes the creation of a social environment, consistent with its “Dame. Zettai.”(No, Absolutely No!) slogan, which does not tolerate drug abuse.

 

At the time when the Drug Abuse Prevention Center was established, there were U.S. reports of American elementary, junior high, and high school students who possessed drugs, dealt drugs, and abused them on school grounds, and some of whom committed various crimes. At the time this kind of situation happening in schools was considered unthinkable by the Japanese public (it led to a negative public perception about the effects of a rapidly Americanizing Japanese population).

 

In the past two decades, there were known to have been cases of arrests of high school students for using stimulants at school. Incidents of arrests of junior high and elementary school students for abusing stimulants became becoming more frequent.

 

One of the key concerns of drug stimulant abuse and paint thinner abuse was that it destroyed the health of abusers (destroying life and lifestyles in the process) and disrupted schools, work places, and society in general, and was acknowledged as a problem that would sap the nation’s vitality.

 

The numbers of junior and senior high school students arrested for stimulant drug related crimes rapidly increased peaking at 262 students in 1997, the highest number ever), it wass judged that a third wave of stimulant drug abuse had arrived (the first period was in the early 1950s and the second period in the early 1980s).

 

However, after a national campaign in 1998 (its cornerstone called the “Five-Year Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy”) to crackdown on the drug problem, the number of juveniles arrested for stimulant drug-related offenses was reported to have been on the decrease ever since the strategy was formulated. However, the number of young people, especially lower and upper secondary school students, arrested for stimulant drug-related offenses remains at a high level. Moreover, the social environment, including the availability of drugs, had not improved.

 

According to the UNDCP report, the amount of stimulants confiscated in Japan ranks fifth-largest in the world. In 1997, 19,937 persons were arrested (charged by the police) for stimulant drug related crimes, which is approaching the level of 20,000 persons. In the last five years, the amount of stimulant drugs confiscated was over three times the amount confiscated in the five years before that period. And since the smuggling routes for stimulant drugs have not been eradicated, it is estimated that a considerable amount of stimulant drugs is still being brought into Japan.

 

The second followup campaign called the “New Five-Year Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy” acknowledges that the third wave of stimulant abuse has not been wiped out and is ongoing.

 

As Japan entered the 1990s, the abuse of new drugs, such as cocaine and psychotropics, increased (cocaine became a problem for the US from the 1980s), particularly rampant in the entertainment and media sector of society. Another serious problem … the amount of confiscated designer drugs in tablet form, such as marijuana and MDMA (commonly known as Ecstasy), had been rapidly increasing in recent years.

 

The situation reached worrisome levels and because it became obvious that the majority of hard drugs came from overseas, the government was spurred to take policy action in strengthening local law enforcement controls and join hands in the international war against illegal drug trafficking.

 

The gap between perception and reality

 

It has been said and thought that Japan has an effective policy and has successfully handled the drug problem, but one suspects that there is a gap between the figures from UNDCP report and the reality. The truth is, Japan, like all of the other countries of the world, the drug problem has become a very serious social problem. Many blame the deteriorating social environment.

(Index) Number of Arrests and Persons Arrested for Stimulant Drug-Related Offenses

(case/person)
  1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
No. of arrests 27,152 22,753 24,419 26,227 25,060 23,474
No. of arrested persons 19,937 17,084 18,491 19,156 18,110 16,964

Sources: National Police Agency, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and Japan Coast Guard

(Index) Number of Juveniles Arrested for Stimulant Drug-Related Offenses
< also placed in the section of Objective 1 >

(person)
  1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Total 1,601 1,079 1,003 1,148 954 749
  Lower secondary school students 43 39 24 54 45 44
Upper secondary school students 219 103 81 105 83 66

Sources: National Police Agency, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, and Japan Coast Guard

(Index) Rate of Lower Secondary School Students Who Have Used Methamphetamine/Marijuana
< also placed in the section of Objective 1 >

(%)
  1998 2000 2002
Methamphetamine 0.51 0.39 0.44
Marijuana 0.68 0.44 0.52
Any one of them 0.8 0.57 0.65

Source: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, “National Survey on the Awareness and Actual Conditions of Drug Abuse among Junior High School Students”

Nip the problem in the bud

 

According to a survey#, about 80% of those who have used stimulant drugs first did so between the ages of 15 and 29 years.

 

The press has reported in the case of university students smoking marijuana that most the young people get into drugs in a peer group situation at parties and “raves”. So it is partly a peer pressure thing and the perception that doing drugs is a “cool thing to do”. The lack of caution regarding drug abuse among young adolescents is indicated by survey results that show that about 20% of high school students think individuals should be free to use drugs.

 

A study showed the necessity and relative successfulness of early intervention on the school scene regarding teen drug-related problems. (Even with intervention, only half of those cases intervened decreased or stopped their drug abuse.)  http://sciencelinks.jp/j-east/article/200405/000020040504A0081738.php

 

Another experimental study on early intervention to drug abuse, showed that where educational briefings or lectures were carried out in a form of school counseling on most at-risk groups, they were successful countermeasures. http://sciencelinks.jp/j-east/article/200123/000020012301A0821251.php

 

So generally speaking, by the time a person ends up abusing drugs, it is usually too late. So there is a pressing need to educate our young who are not currently using drugs about the damaging influence of drug abuse on our lives, to involve the assistance of school nurses, school counselors and teachers (early intervention and countermeasures), and to create a zero tolerance towards drug abuse in our schools and our community.

 

Below are the statistics on youth attitudes and views on drug use and availability

 

(Index) Idea of Drug Abuse
< also placed in the section of Objective 1(1) >

Boys Students in 6th grade of elementary school Students in 3rd grade of lower secondary school Students in 3rd grade of upper secondary school Total of students in 5th grade of elementary school to 3rd grade of upper secondary school
1997 2000 1997 2000 1997 2000 1997 2000
Should never use or be allowed to use drugs 89.5 89.2 77.9 82.5 68.6 74.5 78.8 82.2
Do not mind trying once since single use does not harm mind and body 1.7 0.8 3.1 1.1 4.5 1.2 2.9 1.2
Individuals are free to use drugs since the use does not affect others. 3.6 4.1 11 9.2 15.7 13 9.9 8.6
Other 4.5 4.2 6.6 6.3 9.5 10.6 6.9 7.1
Girls Students in 6th grade of elementary school Students in 3rd grade of lower secondary school Students in 3rd grade of upper secondary school Total of students in 5th grade of elementary school to 3rd grade of upper secondary school
1997 2000 1997 2000 1997 2000 1997 2000
Should never use or be allowed to use drugs 92.4 91.9 85 85.9 81.4 87.2 86 87.4
Do not mind trying once since single use does not harm mind and body 1.1 0.6 2 0.9 2.8 0.6 2 0.8
Individuals are free to use drugs since the use does not affect others 2.5 3.4 6.8 7.9 8.6 7 6 6.3
Other 3.6 3 4.8 4.9 6 4.8 5 4.9

Source: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, “Survey Report on Awareness of Drugs”

(Index) Availability of Stimulant Drugs [Lower Secondary School Students]
< also placed in the section of Objective 1 >

(%)
  Boys Girls
1998 2000 2002 1998 2000 2002
Easily available 8.9 8.9 10.2 6.8 7.8 9.7
Manage to obtain with slight difficulties 15.1 15.5 14.8 15.8 17.7 18
Almost impossible 22.3 21.8 19.9 21 20.5 19.3
Absolutely impossible 50.8 51.8 53.1 53.9 51.9 50.9
No answer 2.8 2 2 2.4 2.1 2.1

Source: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, “National Survey on the Awareness and Actual Conditions of Drug Abuse among Junior High School Students”

(Index) Availability of Methamphetamine/Marijuana
< also placed in the section of Objective 2 >

(%)
  Methamphetamine Marijuana
1999 2001 1999 2001
Easily available 2.9 3.3 2.4 3.3
Manage to obtain with slight difficulties 9.8 8.8 10.1 9.1
Almost impossible 24.2 25.1 24.7 25.5
Absolutely impossible 55.4 55.7 53.9 54.8
I am not familiar with the term stimulant. 1.8 2.9
No answer 5.9 7.1 6 7.2

Source: Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, “National Resident Survey on Drug Use”

 

 

 

 

 

Are foreigners responsible for Japan’s drug problem? Fact, myth or discrimination

 

Drug abuse ignores all domestic boundaries, almost all drugs abused in Japan were smuggled in from abroad either by sea or in containerized cargoes. China (including Hong Kong and Macau) accounts for 51% of the whole amount while North Korea accounts for 35% of all stimulant drugs confiscated at the border between 1998 and 2002.

 

There is also a clear trend, among the South American drug cartels (drug mafia), toward targeting Japan as a market for the scourge of cocaine. Drug abuse is regarded by the Japanese Cabinet and the local police as a grave social problem, a menace to human life, its spread believed to be supporting the activities of terrorists against leading figures, and supplying arms to leftist guerrillas.

 

While paint thinner is easily available and locally accessible to Japanese, other stimulants and hard drugs like heroin and cocaine are not. The strong interest in the recent arrests of pot users at local universities highlights how Japanese cannabis users have taken to growing their own hemp plants to circumvent the problem of high costs of buying foreign sources of cannabis. 

 

 

Worrying law enforcement authorities is the international aspect of the drug problem as illicit sales activities by foreign undesirables have been increasing rapidly, in addition to crime by organized criminal groups.

 

Illegal foreigners, particularly Iranian illegals and overstayers, account for the largest part of the foreigners arrested for drug related crimes (for details on organized crime  modus operandi see here). 873 aliens were arrested for drug-related crimes in 1997, including 328 Iranians (who account for the largest percentage). For reference, the number of Iranians arrested for stimulant drug related crimes was 0 in 1991, and 1 in 1992, but increased rapidly to 220 in 1997.

 

Previously, members of criminal groups were cautious about expanding the targets of illicit sales in order to prevent detection by investigative organizations. Several years ago, foreign drug dealers began selling drugs openly and indiscriminately near stations and on the streets. This brought about a revolutionary change in the form of final illicit sales, and made it easy for ordinary citizens to have access to drugs. This has been highlighted as one of the major reasons for the increase in juvenile drug-related crime.

 

Unlike other foreigners other countries who are arrested for drug-related crimes, Iranian criminals are often characterized as possessing or selling for the purpose of making a profit, not just for the use of drugs. Therefore, ordinary citizens with no experience in drug abuse rarely had any opportunity to come into contact with drugs.

 

The recent trend is their dispersal into rural areas. It has been determined that these illicit dealers have recently been deepening their ties to criminal groups and other foreign undesirables for the purchase and sale of illegal drugs.

 

Measures for countering and preventing drug abuse and early intervention

 

During the period from 1998, when the Previous Five-Year Strategy was formulated, to today, the Headquarters for the Promotion of Measures to Prevent Drug Abuse has taken new measures such as the provision of guidance on drug abuse prevention at elementary schools based on the new curriculum and the establishment of various new drug laws relating to punishment of organized crimes, crime control and criminal investigation of drug crimes.

 

The Headquarters has also taken various measures, including the improvement of drug abuse prevention education at lower and upper secondary schools, the active utilization of laws on controlling the use of narcotics and psychotropics, etc.

 

 

 

*The connection between drug abuse and war

 

However, in the U.S., drug abuse increased significantly after the Vietnam War. In the past in China, drug what was called the Opium Wars, drugs were distributed freely during the military invasions leading to ruin of many lives. One of results of the former Soviet Union’s withdrawal from its conflict with Afghanistan was also the spread of drug abuse among its troops.

 

The fact that the abuse of stimulants is becoming worse indicates that significant amounts of stimulants are being smuggled into Japan. More than 60% of the drugs and about 70% of the stimulants confiscated in Japan are at the border.

 

# Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, “Survey on Actual Conditions of Drug-Related Mental Diseases at Psychiatric Medical Institutions Nationwide” (FY 2002)

 

 

Sources / References:

More student pot busts reported

3 Waseda Univ. students, others held for violating anti-cannabis law 

Drug abuse protective measure for senior high school students (Ministry of Public Welfare and Labor S).  

Drugs affect young Japanese  

Drug abuse Prevention Center  

Brief Intervention for smoking, problem drinking and drug abuse by high school students  

New Five-Year Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy in Japan 

Five-Year Drug Abuse Prevention Strategy in Japan (19982002)

Waseda University to survey students on cannabis use (Nov.19)

Waseda reveals 4 more arrests over cannabis (Nov.18)  

Student found guilty of cannabis possession (Nov. 14) 

Universities keen to tackle cannabis problem (Nov.13) 

 

Officials fret over marijuana use at universities (Nov. 18) 

 

 

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