Schools to get funds for voluntary drug tests

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 November, 2010, 12:00am

Secondary schools will get funds next year to conduct voluntary drug testing of students after a trial in Tai Po was deemed to have fostered an anti-drug culture even though no users were found.

But the government has ruled out compulsory tests after a survey found a majority of students opposed them.

Announcing this yesterday Undersecretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said the trial had achieved one key target of 'preventing students from taking drugs'.

In Tai Po, 12,400 students - 61 per cent of the 20,000 in the district - joined the scheme and about 10 per cent, 2,495, were randomly selected. No drug users were found.

'There are two sides to a coin. On one side you can say the trial was a failure as no positive case was found. On the other side, 60 per cent of students were found clear of drugs,' Lai said.

'Drug testing should not be seen as a panacea, but as an important part in the basket of measures fighting youth drug abuse.'

A government-commissioned survey, which received responses from 13,110 Tai Po students and 6,929 from outside the district, found that 78 per cent thought the tests could help build an anti-drug culture.

On the other hand, only just over a quarter of students and slightly fewer parents accepted compulsory tests.

The results also showed that almost one in four students were mistaken in thinking that taking psychotropic drugs was no different from smoking.

In the six-month trial, which ended in June, urine samples were tested for traces of psychotropic drugs including ketamine, Ecstasy, cocaine and cannabis.

A fifth of the selected students were ruled out because of their physical condition or because they were on medication and six refused the tests.

The extended scheme announced yesterday will allow the tests to be district-based or cross-district based on the schools under a single sponsoring body.

The Beat Drugs Fund has about HK$10 million available from which schools can apply.

Lai said the schools could choose from hair or urine tests and on-site screening or laboratory confirmation.

The five-person drug testing team will consist of project assistants from the schools and trained technicians who will replace the Home Affairs Department executive officers and nurses used in the Tai Po tests.

Commissioner for Narcotics Sally Wong said there were clear guidelines for the project officers and the secretary of the Beat Drugs Fund would monitor the projects including random inspections.

The Anglican Church said it would not have a central policy on whether its 32 schools should join the scheme but would leave it up to the school administrations.

'We do not believe the scheme in Tai Po was as successful as the government said, but we recognise it is a step in the right direction in fighting drug abuse,' said Timothy Ha Wing-ho, the education adviser to the Archbishop of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui.

'It does not offer a strong inducement for schools to join as the new scheme's administrative burden is heavier than the Tai Po one,' Ha said.