To fight against the rapid growth of synthetic drugs, the Chinese government has strengthened the controls and regulation, incorporated synthetic drugs into the new detoxification system, and changed the inconsistent governance of synthetic and traditional drugs. This, however, has not stopped the spread of synthetic drugs among young urbanites. While scholars have focused on the loopholes and defects of specific drug control regulations, ethnographic inquiries illustrate how and why control does not work, or is even resisted by young drug users.
In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 28 individuals aged between 20 and 35, recruited from a cohort of synthetic drug users in a Shanghai drug rehabilitation centre. Audio-recorded interviews elicited accounts of their daily experiences of drug use as well as their perspectives on the impact of the government's new drug control policies.
The main themes voiced by our respondents include: (1) synthetic drugs are not addictive, and are used to feel 'high'; (2) synthetic drugs are used to achieve their goals, which are otherwise impossible through mainstream means; (3) users are confident that they will be able to manage the use of synthetic drugs without harm to themselves; (4) their worries concern administrative punishment rather than consequences to health.
The participants of this study did not support the government's attempts to control the use of synthetic drugs. They viewed their use as rational recreation under the perceived boundaries of 'acceptable risks'. Even in the context of severe control, synthetic drugs have strong appeal to youths. Drug policy should acknowledge the experiences of users and consider the socio-cultural contexts of youth drug-taking. The personal experience of participants could help improve the Chinese Drug Control Act and regulations.
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