Drug-testing scheme should be abandoned

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 July, 2010, 12:00am

The voluntary drug testing of Tai Po high school students never seemed to be the best thought out plan to begin with and the results after six months have proven it to be so: not a single positive test. This is all we have to show for the HK$11 million spent, the hours of lost learning time and the redirected efforts of teachers and social workers. There is talk that the scheme should be extended to gather more data about its effectiveness, but the evidence is already obvious. It is not working.

Authorities have never properly explained what the scheme is intended to achieve. They have expressed concern about teenage drug use, although this has not been borne out by statistics and surveys. True, psychotropic drug use has risen, but there have been continuing falls in abuse of addictive drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. The problem seems no worse here than in other developed cities.

Extensive research in Britain and Australia has shown little evidence that drug testing in schools has benefits. Instead, there are considerable downsides. Funding that could be spent on education and scientifically proven treatment programmes is wasted. Trust between students and their parents and teachers is unnecessarily eroded. Questions abound about infringement of personal freedoms and the storing of sensitive data.

There is no data on whether the 2,495 students from 23 Tai Po schools randomly chosen to take urine tests for drug use were angered or distressed. We know that the 1,975 who agreed all produced negative results. That is hardly surprising; drug users are not going to want to be tested and, as the scheme allowed, can refuse. But a flawed process or not, it is ineffective to spy on and arbitrarily test our children for drugs. Teenagers are prone to experiment with the forbidden. Education and policing are the best ways to dissuade them. Random testing makes for good sound bites, but as a solution to a drug problem it drives a wedge between critical relationships. Rather than prolonging the Tai Po scheme or extending it to other schools, it should be abandoned and the resources put to more constructive uses.