Any law that detects drug users and steers them into counselling without fear of prosecution has to be welcomed. Early identification to enhance the effectiveness of treatment is a worthy objective. Unfortunately it is not that simple, as a government advisory body has found.
Since drug abuse on its own is self-harm, it is not to be compared with behaviour that could cause harm to others and damage property, such as driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs. As a result, it poses more complex questions for steps against illegal drugs. Whereas a law giving police the power to test drivers for drugs is not controversial, a government plan to stop people on the street, based on how they look and act, and force them to undergo a test has aroused strong opposition, particularly from lawyers, social workers and human-rights groups, over rights and privacy issues. Another concern was that it might make addicts more reluctant to seek help.
These are among the results of a five-month public consultation on the idea, promoted by the Action Committee Against Narcotics. Despite a steady fall in reported cases of drug abuse, especially among people under 21, the committee advocated the scheme because it believed there had been a rise in drug abuse at home which was easier to hide.
The consultation and a concurrent survey unearthed consensus on the need to identify drug abusers early but also revealed opinion is divided on how to do so. Fifty-six per cent of nearly 3,000 submissions to the consultation objected to the plan, with 43 per cent support coming mainly from parents and teachers. But 91 per cent of 1,004 respondents to a public survey, conducted by University of Hong Kong researchers for the Security Bureau, were in favour of it.
The cost of the appropriate facilities for treatment would be a good social investment. The greatest concern remains the possible infringement of basic rights. The government should heed the committee's urging to study the details of the scheme and launch another consultation next year.