When Don Spike, a K-pop composer and TV celebrity, was arrested last month on charges of buying and using methamphetamine on multiple occasions, the public was initially shocked to see a fairly familiar figure entangled in a drug case.
But more shocking was the scale of the crime involved. When the 45-year-old was apprehended, police confiscated 30 grams of meth, an amount equal to about 1,000 doses. Police referred him to the prosecution early this month.
What matters is that Don Spike is not an isolated case. South Korea is witnessing the rapid proliferation of drugs, with its pernicious tentacles stretching into various sectors, occupations and age groups.
According to government data, the total number of drug offenders stood at 12,233 in the first eight months of this year, up 14.5 percent from a year earlier. Alarmingly, more young people are falling into the drug trap. The number of teenage offenders was 450 last year, an 11-fold increase from 41 recorded in 2011. The proportion of offenders in their 20s is also on the rise in recent years.
When it comes to offender numbers, a country with 20 or fewer offenders out of every 100,000 people is deemed “drug free.” To achieve the unofficial label, South Korea’s total figure should be under 10,000, but the threshold was crossed in 2015.
On Wednesday, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration and the ruling People Power Party jointly held a meeting and unveiled a set of plans to combat the use of illegal drugs that threatens to destroy people’s health, careers and even lives with lethal addiction.
For starters, the administration said it would set up a pangovernmental headquarters in charge of supervising and coordinating state agencies’ concerted efforts to fight drugs and to operate a special investigation team. Joint crackdowns, information sharing and rehabilitation programs will be implemented to help strengthen statewide guards against drug circulation and offenses.
In the following 12 months, the government will crack down on drug trafficking and related illegal acts through the special investigation team. Those who are caught circulating drugs will be arrested for investigation and severely punished.
The administration also noted that authorities will track down and confiscate all crime-related profits, including those in cryptocurrency, as more and more drug dealers are stashing away their money via dark channels.
A network of related authorities ranging from police to the customs office will form a joint information hub on drugs being circulated here in a bid to beef up crackdown on offenders.
“Before the drug problem breaks through the manageable threshold to spread throughout the nation, we need to stage a war on drugs,” President Yoon Suk-yeol said in a meeting Monday with Prime Minister Han Duck-soo.
Experts warned the government should carry out more systematic measures to combat drug offenders and uncover secret distribution networks. One reason behind the fast-paced growth of drug-related crimes is that drug dealers use the "dark web," security-enhanced messengers and cryptocurrency to sell drugs -- sophisticated cyber tools designed to evade the tracking of authorities. Another channel is direct purchases of drugs from overseas online markets, taking advantage of international mail or express air delivery. This has broadened Korean offenders’ access to new, cheaper drugs -- in some cases disguised as legitimate medicine.
It goes without saying that drugs can be immensely addictive and harmful. Drug offenders can be stuck in uncontrollable addiction, and some addicts soon become involved in drug-induced violent crime. Before it is too late, the government should take actions such as cracking down on offenders, running rehabilitation programs and implementing consistent policies in order to stop the social malaise spreading further.