Time for an all-out war against youth drug abuse

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 July, 2009, 12:00am

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen announced in the Legislative Council on July 7 that he would personally lead the fight against the mounting problem of drug abuse among young people. The government will reinvigorate efforts on all fronts through social engagement, district support, drug testing, rehabilitation services and enforcement.

Legislators weren't very enthusiastic about the announcement, preferring instead to continue to challenge the government on more controversial issues such as political reform and the minibonds saga. But I think Mr Tsang is right not to let political and economic problems delay the need to help an ever-increasing number of young drug abusers.

To fight this 'tough enemy', it is necessary to involve top government officials. The existing mechanism - an inter-departmental working group chaired by the commissioner for narcotics to steer, co-ordinate and implement the entire programme of some 70 recommendations - is grossly inadequate. There is an urgent need to upgrade the working group and put in the top chair either the secretary for justice, whose task force put up the recommendations, or the secretary for security, the principal official concerned. Heads of relevant departments would attend. This high-powered working group could ensure any decision is implemented effectively, and inter-departmental problems resolved quickly.

At present, the Action Committee Against Narcotics (Acan), chaired by someone outside the government, with the commissioner for narcotics as a member, serves as a link between the government and non-governmental bodies involved in fighting narcotics. It also deals with the problem of youth drug abuse and has offered valuable advice in areas such as publicity and rehabilitation services.

But if Mr Tsang wants to mount a sustained and community-wide campaign against youth drug abuse, he may need to strengthen Acan, with more participation from community leaders and a stronger district network. Tackling youth drug abuse requires not only determination, but also understanding and compassion. The recent controversy over the relocation of Christian Zheng Sheng College on Lantau is a case in point.

The government needs to resolve this case quickly, to demonstrate it has the resolve and ability to provide rehabilitation services where needed. Furthermore, the administration should evaluate the need for rehabilitation services in the whole city and start identifying any additional land and financial requirements needed to meet the demand.

A concerted effort involving the government, political parties, and religious and community leaders is required to overcome the not-in-my-backyard attitude. Given the tremendous empathy for the well-mannered Zheng Sheng students, it is a timely opportunity that the government should not miss.

On the subject of drug testing, Mr Tsang has been much more forthcoming than previous government statements. All 23 secondary schools in the Tai Po district are to join the pilot voluntary drug testing scheme.

In a recent poll by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, more than half of the parents surveyed supported voluntary drug testing, while another 30 per cent had an open mind. To facilitate the early introduction of voluntary drug testing in all secondary schools, I suggest that all government secondary schools join the Tai Po schools in the pilot scheme.

This would serve three purposes. First, it would demonstrate the government's determination on drug testing. Second, the participation of highly reputable schools would remove any negative labelling effects. And, third, as these schools are located in various districts, they would set an example for other schools to follow. I can think of no good reason why government schools should not volunteer to help Mr Tsang.

Joseph Wong Wing-ping, formerly secretary for the civil service, is an honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong