Fewer reports suggest drug abuse on decline

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 September, 1998, 12:00am

I refer to Cindy Sui's report, headlined 'Privacy law 'disguising true extent of drug use' ' (South China Morning Post, September 11), concerning the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance and the statistics kept by the Government's Central Registry of Drug Abuse (CRDA).

We consider it extremely misleading to attribute the recent decrease in the number of reported drug abuse cases to the alleged reluctance of social welfare agencies in providing data to the CRDA.

Under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance there are 34 CRDA reporting agencies and the number of these agencies reporting to the CRDA has been stable.

Reports made by outreach and youth service agencies, surveyed by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service (HKCSS) as quoted in Ms Sui's report, accounted for less than five per cent of all CRDA reports received last year.

The rest were from law enforcement agencies such as the police, government departments such as the Social Welfare, Health and the Correctional Services departments, medical institutions including private hospitals and those under the Hospital Authority, and non-government social welfare organisations, excluding outreach and youth agencies.

Last year there was an across-the-board reduction in the number of cases received from different reporting agencies.

Given the general downward trend of the number of reported cases from all sources, we have strong reasons to believe the overall drug abuse trend in Hong Kong is genuinely falling.

We note the concern of the HKCSS that some social workers may not fully understand the Privacy Ordinance and are worried about clients' interests being compromised should they report to the CRDA.

We have, in fact, assured the HKCSS on numerous occasions since the enactment of the ordinance in December 1996 that there is no cause for such concern.

We have repeatedly explained to the agencies concerned through briefings and individual liaison that the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance clearly stipulates that any person who discloses any record of confidential information kept by the CRDA or a reporting agency, or supplies to any person information obtained from any such record, commits an offence.

At a meeting between the HKCSS and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data in October 1996, it was also explained to the HKCSS that the supply of data to the CRDA for statistical purposes would not contravene the provisions of the Privacy Ordinance.

CLARIE LO Commissioner for Narcotics