There are indeed not many chances to learn about drug crime in Korea; through criminal movies or dramas, or celebrities’ drug charges would probably be all. So, the majority of Koreans might have regarded that Korea is free from drugs. Last September, however, a driver who caused a rear-end collision, injuring seven people, turned out to be accused of taking an illegal drug. It was shocking news because that crash happened on a Monday afternoon in Haeundae, one of the most popular places in Busan. So, is Korea free from drugs for sure? The Sungkyun Times (SKT) will discuss illegal drugs in Korea, the reasons for the increase in illegal drugs, and how to work out the problem.
Illegal Drugs in Korea
To get to the point, it is true that Korea is not free from illegal drugs. Anthony Hegarty, an advisory committee member of the Korea Association Against Drug Abuse, said that the rate of the use of narcotic analgesics in Korea ranked in third place in Asia, emphasizing that Korea is not free from illegal drugs. Before taking a look at the current state of illegal drugs in Korea, let’s look into the definition of drugs in Korea. According to the Narcotics Control Act, drugs are organized into three main categories: narcotic drugs, marijuana, and psychotropic substances. Drugs consist of natural drugs such as poppy and opiates and designer drugs that are chemically synthesized. Marijuana is a drug made from the dried leaves and flowers of the hemp plant and products made with it. Lastly, synthetic chemicals containing drug components are psychotropic substances.
Increase in the Use of Illegal Drugs
The arrest of celebrities or rich people for possessing drugs would be almost the only way to hear about drugs for most people in Korea. A lot more Korean citizens, however, are not free from illegal drug offenses. The number of drug offenders is on the rise in recent years. According to the 2019 Drug Criminal White Book from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Korea, the number of drug offenders has exceeded 10,000 since 2015, and it significantly increased to 16,044 in 2019. In particular, in 2019, there has been a 27% increase compared to the past. Also, cases of young drug offenders increased. In 2019, showing a 67.1% increase compared to the last year. The number of foreign drug offenders also passed over 1,000 last year. Foreign drug offenders in 2019 totaled 1,528, which was an increase by 61% from a year ago.
Why the Number of Drug-Related Offences is Increasing?
Increase of Accessibility Due to Social Media
These days, it is easier to get drugs than it used to be since social media offers anonymity, and shipping services allow ease of delivery. Last September, a crime that largely circulated drugs such as methamphetamine, also known as Philopon in Korea, came to light in the press. The drug offender, named Park Wang-yeol used an application, Telegram, which is famous for using anonymous accounts and heavy security. One drug offender who worked with Park testified, “Park distributed about 60kg of methamphetamine to Korea every month,” through an interview with Newstapa. Besides Park’s drug channel, there were more than a dozen drug channels using Telegram. A TV program has broadcasted about drug channels through Telegram, and it discloses that it is possible to buy drugs 24/7 using Telegram. They are dealing with drugs easily using a method called, a drop. This is when the drug dealer “drops off” the drug in a specific place, then the drug buyer picks them up later. It made police officers harder to find drug offenders. Moreover, the investigation has been more demanding because of Telegram’s anonymity. As all the traffic in drugs is passing off anonymously, police officers cannot get additional information about other criminals from the drug dealer or buyer they have caught. But it is not only Telegram but also other social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook that are places to come across the advertisement of drug trafficking.
Foreigners in Korea and Korean Students Studying Abroad
The prosecution reported that one of the reasons for the increase in foreign drug offenders is an increase of foreigners who entered Korea for work or travel. Foreigners are reported to smuggle drugs from their home countries into Korea to sell or enjoy with colleagues. In particular, construction and factory workers from Thailand have many cases of smuggling and injecting Yaba, which is a psychotropic substance from Thailand. One Thai said, “There are some cases where people build relationships at a foreigner-only club and use Yaba together,” from an interview of No-cut News. Also, it is legal to smoke marijuana in some countries, such as Canada and the United States (US). Thus, Korean students studying who have a relationship with those who smoke marijuana abroad might get drugs easily. Since marijuana is manufactured and produced within foods such as marijuana oil, jelly, and cookies, it is much easier to smuggle drugs.
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Celebrities’ Drugs Charges
Celebrities’ drug charges are not a new problem. In 2012, many celebrities were charged for taking propofol, which is anesthesia used for sleep but is also a psychotropic drug. The real problem, however, is that most of them come back after a short period of inactivity, so-called self-restraint time, without showing true remorse or apology. E Sens, the rapper who smoked marijuana, even released his new album in jail. As this shows, many celebrities who have been charged for drug offense simply come back or reveal how they are getting along; this makes citizens insensible to the danger of illegal drugs. Lee Yoon-ho, a professor of Police Administration Department at Dongguk University said, “If drug offenses are highly exposed to the public, the possibilities to commit a copycat crime by young people might increase because they tend to follow celebrities to look fancy.” Also, the frequent exposure of celebrities’ drug offenses affects the false sense of drugs to celebrities that they can increase the artistry of an individual. BI, who dropped out of an idol group because of his drug offense, said that he smoked drugs because he wanted to be a genius.
How to Decrease the Number of Drug Offenses
Strengthening Inspection to Block Drug Smuggling
People are easily exposed to advertisements for drugs through social media and chatting applications. So, police officers have to strengthen their maneuvers for online drug criminals which have been a blind spot until now. For that, the police need specialized internet investigators for a stable and effective investigation. Also, cooperation with international agencies is necessary because drug offenses are passing off globally, and the ways to smuggle drugs into the country are becoming more and more elaborate. They conceal drugs in products such as tea, chocolate, or cigarettes and wrap them with foil to pass the X-ray. They also use international mail or flights to run drugs, so the number of sniffer dogs should also be increased.
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Strengthening the Punishment
According to the Narcotics Control Act, a defendant can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 10 years or be fined up to 100 million won. Compared to other countries, the punishment is not that weak; as for the US, imprisonment of up to three years and a fine of 5,000 dollars can be sentenced, and for Singapore, imprisonment of up to ten years and a fine of up to 2 million Singapore dollars. Therefore, a prosecutor should sentence criminals more heavily and strengthen punishment. Last year, the penalty for drug possession was imprisonment for five years, which is an extraordinarily high sentence for drug possessors; experts say this high sentence would help to lessen the increasing number of drug offenses.
Preventing the Spread of the False Sense about Drugs
Celebrities are often touchstones for teenagers. Therefore, celebrities’ drug offenses could look cool to teenagers, and their fast, easy come back without genuine remorse could make teenagers drop their consciousness on the danger of drugs. As a result, celebrities who are charged for drugs have to participate consistently in anti-drug campaigns. No one has the right to prohibit the drug-charged celebrities’ come back because an entertainer is a job for them. So, they have to express in public that drugs are only harmful and drug addiction is just a disease that must be cured. For example, Kim Tae-won who is a famous guitarist and singer opened up on his story to get on his feet in a TV show after he was imprisoned for smoking marijuana. He said, “It is extremely hard to make a masterpiece without drugs.” Above all, the entertainment business has to stop the custom of warmly welcoming drug-charged celebrities.
The false sense that Korea is free from drugs causes Korean society to neglect drug offenses. These days, where drugs are openly being sold through the Internet, no one is free from drug offenses. It is not only police officers but also citizens who have to be cautious about drug offenses