Getting a handle on drug abuse in Macau 

Although the estimated number of total narcotic and other drug users is declining in Macau, the size of stimulant users may be increasing. The number of drug users in the territory corresponds to a prevalence rate of 1.20% of the current population aged 15 to 54 

An academic study led by a professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Macau concludes that the number of drug users in Macau corresponds to a prevalence rate of 1.20% of the current population aged 15 to 54, lower than that of Hong Kong, Tianji Cai told Macau Business.  

“But our estimated prevalence rate is subject to the quality of the Central Registration System for Drug Abusers of Macau (CRSDAM) data,” he said, “which contains a disproportionately large amount of narcotics users.” 

Professor Tianji Cai states in the conclusions of the research that “we estimated that the size of drug users was more than twice that [stated] in the government reports.” This does not mean that the government is working with undervalued indicators. According to Mr. Tianji’s explanations to Macau Business, “if the implementation is perfect . . . those indictors would be the most accurate ones. I do not think the government has intentionally picked undervalued indicators. I would think the government would use overvalued ones if they are available.” 

Tianji Cai and Yiwei Xia (Ph.D candidate in Criminology) had as their starting point the data collected by the Central Registration System for Drug Abusers of Macao (CRSDAM), which applied some models to estimate the number of drug users and to identify influential factors on capture and survival probabilities spanning 2009 to 2014. 

“Our study contributes to the current understanding of drug use in Macau in a number of ways,” they state.  

“Firstly, our results show that the estimated sizes from all three different assumptions were more than twice the number of cases released in the government reports. We also found a decline in narcotics users and an increase in stimulant users after the year 2012, which was not shown clearly in the annually reported number of registered users by the CRSDAM,” we can read in the paper published two months ago in The Asian Journal of Criminology.  

“Secondly, we identified four factors that contribute to the probability of survival and capture. Those using narcotics as the first drug had a higher chance to survive and were more likely to be captured. Possible reasons may include the highly addictive nature of narcotics such as heroin and opium and the lesser availability or popularity of narcotics in the market in recent years,” they add. 

“Although the estimated sizes of total narcotic and other drug users is declining, the size of stimulant users might be increasing,” is another finding of the research. “We also found that people who use narcotics as their first drug and who were reported by governmental agencies were more likely to stay in the registration system, while those who used needle injection were less likely to stay.” 

According to the authors, “Governmental agencies, higher education, and using needle injection were negatively associated with the probability of capture over time, while using narcotics as the first drug was positively associated with it.” 

The explanations for the local slow decline of drug users are not yet clear: “According to published studies and reports from Hong Kong there seems to be a trend of decline for using drugs, narcotics in particular. And scholars are trying to understand the reasons behind [this]. It could be a trend only for narcotics which are highly addictive and easily identified. Since new synthetic drugs are not easy to trace using the registration system, researchers would disagree that the number of users is declining due to insufficient evidence and records from the police,” Tianji told our magazine. 

The Macau SAR started formal data collection on drug abuse in 2009 “however – it is the understanding of Tianji and Yiwei – little empirical research has been conducted using CRSDAM data except for the government annual report on the registration records, which shows a stable and slowly declining trend of drug abuse in Macau.” 

This is why this study, a pioneering undertaking, “will assist the Macau Government in allocating resources to best meet service demands and will also help develop effective drug intervention policies.”  

The authors, nevertheless, acknowledge that this study is potentially limited in several respects.