PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 September, 2009, 12:00am

Hair analysis the best method in drug tests

It is extremely important, when setting up drug testing, that the programme implemented is optimal for the particular circumstances.

In schools, with a known or suspected drug problem, mandatory testing of all students at one time produces the most useful results. This reveals the real extent of drug abuse in the school and must be followed by referral to specialists capable of drug abuse assessment and treatment for drug-dependent students.

I am a medical doctor, certified as a medical review officer. This qualifies me to set up drug testing in schools and workplaces. I have worked in this field providing drug-screening services to international schools in Hong Kong since 1996.

The best type of testing for schools is hair analysis not urinalysis. Urinalysis looks at the past 0 to five days and may reveal single and multiple drug use, but cannot differentiate between casual experimental users and frequent or chronic users.

Hair testing looks at the past five to 90 days. It may be negative for single use but is aimed at detecting regular or chronic drug use.

Hair is much easier to collect, less confrontational and more difficult to adulterate. It also produces 18 times more positive results than urinalysis.

Security and integrity of collection sites, monitoring of donor identification, test sample collection, filling of test request forms and tamper-proof storage and transport to an appropriate laboratory facility must be monitored by professionals trained in this procedure. They must have direct contact with a supervising, suitably qualified, medical review officer who will review all results.

Consent should be obtained from all parents before each student's enrolment at school.

The student then signs the consent form at the time of collection. This includes confirmation that the specimen is from the donor, that information on the form is correct and permits the medical review officer to reveal results to the school or parents. Test results must be handled with great care. There are many reasons for false positives, such as legitimate prescription drug use. False negatives can occur with dilution, adulteration or substitution. Results must be discussed and verified confidentially with the donor before reporting to the school or parents with split samples available for confirmatory analysis.

There is currently no medical review officer training in Hong Kong. This must be addressed urgently if the government plan for drug testing in schools is to be successful.

Dr Wayne Moran, Aberdeen

Flawed scheme has its merits

The drug-testing scheme should go ahead although it is flawed.

However, I hope it might persuade some young drug users to seek help for their problem, before its implementation in December. In this regard the government should increase capacity in its drug rehabilitation centres. At the moment in Hong Kong, these centres are overstretched and they will not be able to handle the large increase in numbers of young people seeking help after the scheme is implemented. Of course, we cannot send all students who test positive to rehab centres.

Some can be helped within the school environment and given intensive counselling.

Also, graduates from the Christian Zheng Sheng College could go to schools and talk to pupils who had tested positive.

Their shared personal experiences could help these young people to turn their lives around. This would also help decrease the workload faced by social workers.

Finally, the government must promote this scheme and encourage people who are taking drugs to get help.

We cannot eliminate all drugs from school, but we can reduce the problem and the testing scheme is an important first step.

Sherry Lee Hoi-ying, Kwun Tong

Plastic cutlery tax misguided

I can understand why some green groups back a levy on disposable utensils, especially at fast food chains like McDonald's and KFC.

These restaurants generate a lot of rubbish which is not environmentally friendly.

However, I do not think a levy is workable and these chains are already trying to reduce their use of disposable plastic.

The last time I went to a KFC restaurant I noted that there were two queues.

There was one for customers getting reusable cutlery and the other for disposable utensils.

I thought this was an interesting idea.

So, why doesn't KFC switch to just using reusable utensils at its restaurants?

I think getting restaurant chains to do this is a better option than trying to impose a levy.

Anna Au Lok-sang, Tsuen Wan

Indonesian maids exploited

Two cheers for the Malaysians. They finally granted their servants a day of rest each week ('Indonesian maids to get a day off a week, plus access to passports', September 4), apparently getting their arms twisted to do so by their government. When, one wonders, will Singapore follow suit, if ever?

What is it about people who treat their maids like machines? In the Lantau neighbourhood where I live, one sees small Indonesian women pedalling tricycles up and down lanes with their employers sitting happily in the back. Who needs golf carts if you can get your employees to save you from walking in the heat? Apparently today the Indonesians have taken over the roles of slaves from the Filipinos.

The Jakarta government has long been an enabler of the exploitive enterprise involving its exported women, so from now on will it really bother to ensure its women's human rights are respected?

How much longer will it take Middle Kingdom citizens of this world city and its neighbouring countries to realise that Southeast Asian migrant workers are human? Or is this a silly question?

Isabel Escoda, Lantau

Quota query

I read with some bemusement a notice in the Classified Post from the Transport Department of the Hong Kong government calling for applications from eligible operators and joint venture companies for quotas of cross-boundary hire car services travelling via Shenzhen Bay Port.

These applications have to be submitted to the department and to the relevant authorities of Guangdong province. There are presumably many private businesses offering hire car services which operate cross-border. Why the quota? Does the Hong Kong government no longer believe in free enterprise?

I would also be grateful if the Transport Department can enlighten us as to the legal basis and source of authority for imposing the quota and for granting such applications.

Gladys Li, Central

Not enough staff

I refer to the comments made by a hospital chief ('Medical mishaps blamed on lack of team spirit', September 2).

I do not think team spirit is the issue here. Division of labour in the medical system is so clear that everyone knows what exactly their jobs are and they fully co-operate. The main problem facing our hospitals is a shortage of labour.

Staff work round the clock in order to keep hospitals operating. They have no time to check everything and mistakes will happen. The problems can only go away if the Hospital Authority deals with the manpower shortage.

Chan Kit-ying, Sha Tin