[EDITORIALS]The Alarming Rise of Drug Use

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[EDITORIALS]The Alarming Rise of Drug Use

To the astonishment and disappointment of his fans and the public, Park Jae-sang, a popular singer known as "Psy," was nabbed Thursday night for smoking marijuana, just two days after the arrest of Hwang Su-jeong, a well-known television actress, on charges of using methamphetamine, an illegal drug. Moreover, drug use, which used to be limited to those in show business or red-light districts, is rapidly spreading among white-collar citizens, housewives and students, and is raising the urgent need for special measures to stop the proliferation.

It is nothing new that many performers use illegal drugs. Approximately 20 entertainers have been arrested during the past 10 years. According to data from the Public Prosecutor"s Office, performers rank fifth in the use of narcotics by occupation. The problem is that more entertainers are shifting from soft drugs, such as marijuana, to hard ones, such as methamphetamine.

It"s been said that entertainers are tempted by drugs because of pressures to be popular and because of stage fright. How can we expect healthy performances and creative works from drug users?

Numerous entertainment stars are idols for our children. Many teenagers imitate every move a star makes and every word he or she says or sings. Entertainers" drug use may encourage copycat crimes by youths. That is why entertainers must exercise much greater self-control.

A cause for even bigger concern is that drug use by ordinary citizens is rising sharply. According to statistics from the Public Prosecutor"s Office, the number of drug offenders jumped to approximately 10,300 last year, up from around 6,100 in 1996. In particular, about 1,400 nonentertainment figures - such as store employees, vendors, housewives and students - used illegal drugs last year, up 72 percent from 1996. Investigators attribute the steep rise in drug use by ordinary people to a sharp decline in the price of methamphetamine, also known as "speed." The price drop is due to the great amounts of speed being smuggled into Korea from China and Thailand.

The price of a dose (0.03 grams) of the drug topped 200,000 won ($156) last year, but is half that this year. A Korean drug dealer, whose execution by the Chinese authorities touched off a diplomatic row between Seoul and Beijing, was arrested in September 1997 on charges of producing 3,500 grams of methamphetamine in a rented house near Harbin, and smuggling it into Korea.

State prosecutors and police must come up with measures to block the production and supply of narcotics. They must beef up drug searches at ports and airports, while reinforcing cooperation with authorities in other countries such as China. In addition, performers must be much better role models for the public.
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