Free health checks to jolt young drug users

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2008, 12:00am

Bid to scare abusers with signs of damage

Young users of illegal drugs will be offered free medical check-ups next month in a new approach to encourage them to seek early treatment.

News of the HK$1.8 million pilot scheme came as the latest crime figures revealed 278 people aged between 10 and 24 were arrested in the first quarter of the year for drug-related offences.

This was an increase of 83 on the same period last year.

Of 736 serious drug offences reported in the period, 84 per cent involved psychotropic drugs such as ketamine and Ecstasy.

Supported by the government's Beat Drugs Fund, the scheme is expected to serve 300 to 400 drug users aged between 10 and 24 over two years, with centres to be established by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals at Wan Chai, Shau Kei Wan, Sha Tin and Tuen Mun.

Principal assistant secretary for security David Wong Fuk-loi said collaboration between doctors and social workers in drug treatment was a new approach.

Social workers would refer young drug users to doctors in the scheme who would perform basic medical check-ups, including blood and urine tests and assessing eye-hand co-ordination, for free.

'The aim of the scheme is to alert abusers to their health deterioration to ignite their motivation and determination to seek early treatment,' Mr Wong said.

Ben Cheung Kin-leung, chairman of the Action Committee Against Narcotics subcommittee on treatment and rehabilitation, said the initiative attempted to extend drug treatment into the community.

'Young psychotropic abusers usually deny they are addicted and refuse treatment until very late,' he said. 'But the provision of body checks may attract them to take a look at their health conditions at an early stage.'

According to local research in 2001 cited by Mr Cheung, about 25 per cent of young addicts would seek early treatment if they knew their bodies were deteriorating rapidly.

Former drug user Monique, 15, who started taking drugs when she was 12, is one of them.

She had been using various psychotropic drugs and sometimes would take three or four different ones a day.

'I was terrified when the doctor told me many of my brain cells were dead and I could be mentally retarded, if not suffer a stroke or spasm, one day,' she said.

Monique, who noticed that her memory was declining and was suffering frequent tremors and insomnia, was referred by a social worker to a psychiatrist about a year ago. She has been off drugs for nine months.

The scheme has recruited five doctors to do the check-ups and they will be given training in motivating their patients. More doctors and social workers are expected to join.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Tang King-shing said overall crime in the first quarter had fallen by 1,229 cases compared to the same period last year, a decrease of 6 per cent.