Don't rely on school drug testing alone, Harvard academic tells city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 August, 2009, 12:00am

School-based drug testing should be made compulsory and be complemented by an effective promotion programme, a US health professor has told Hong Kong officials.

Testing should go hand in hand with a campaign to 'deglamorise and delegitimise' drugs, said Vish Viswanath, a Harvard University public health professor with more than 20 years of research experience in health communication. He was speaking after a week-long visit to Hong Kong during which he delivered a series of lectures to health officials.

He said he had learned about the government's plan to introduce voluntary drug testing among secondary school pupils in Tai Po as a trial, and said it might not be an effective way to deter pupils from using drugs.

'When you are making exceptions, you are already creating two classes of students. People can easily work around the system.'

During his stay, Professor Viswanath discussed issues such as successful health promotion and how to communicate information about infectious diseases effectively.

He said that instead of solely depending on drug testing, more effort should be put into a promotional campaign. The current anti-drug campaign, including commercials and competitions, could be described as superficial, he said.

'The government should go to the teenagers and find out the root cause of why they are using drugs. Is it because of sensation-seeking?'

A successful national anti- smoking campaign in the United States was cited as an example.

The Truth Campaign appealed to teenagers' desire for freedom and independence. In commercials less than 30 seconds long, teenagers were told how tobacco companies were deceiving them and that they had 'become pawns'.

'Instead of telling them what would happen to their health 20 years later, we gave them a sense of urgency,' he said. 'The programme successfully turned many teenagers against tobacco companies.'

Professor Viswanath said a successful public health campaign should be accompanied by strong law enforcement so that teenagers realised 'there could be serious social consequences'.