Surge in Drug Offenses in Korea Draws National Concern; Celebrities and Teens Among Those Investigated

SEOUL — Actor Lee Sun-kyun, known for his role in the Academy-winning Korean movie "Parasite," and K-pop star G-Dragon are among several individuals under police investigation on suspicion of drug use.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the cases involving Lee and G-Dragon have intensified the ongoing concern about rising drug offenses in South Korea.

The police recently booked a medical doctor on allegations of supplying illegal drugs to Lee and others. About ten individuals, including Lee, a music composer, and an aspiring singer, are reportedly under investigation. Meanwhile, a man was arrested on October 25 for distributing drug advertising cards around university campuses in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province.

Rising instances of drug-related crimes have become a point of public concern. In one incident, a police officer died after jumping from an apartment where he had been part of a drug-using gathering. In another, a man drove his car onto a sidewalk under the influence of drugs, resulting in the death of a young pedestrian.

The increase in drug offenses is notable. Police arrested 12,700 drug offenders in the eight months leading up to August of this year, surpassing the total number arrested in 2022. The police also rounded up a drug dealing ring that was collaborating with overseas smuggling groups in six other countries.

Data from the Korea Customs Service indicates a 29% increase in drug seizures at the border, with 493 kilograms caught from January to September this year. What is particularly alarming is the surge in drug use among teenagers and those in their 20s, a demographic where drug use has been relatively uncommon in Korea. Illegal drugs are primarily distributed through social networking services, leading to 3,731 arrests among individuals in their 20s and 659 among teenagers from January to August this year.

The government has announced plans to form a special team to combat drug smuggling and is considering the creation of a "narcotics investigation bureau" to centralize efforts. The prosecution has adopted a zero-tolerance guideline for drug smugglers, but there are calls for stricter sentencing given the high rate of recidivism, currently at 35%.

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