Drug abusers need early screening

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 12:43am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 October, 2013, 12:43am

I refer to your editorial, ("Drug testing plans need full debate" October 15). First and foremost, contrary to your assertion that "possession of banned drugs is a crime, but use of them is not", dangerous drug consumption is a serious, arrestable offence attracting a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment and a fine of HK$1 million, the same as dangerous drug possession.

Indeed, many people share the same misconception because law enforcement officers do not have the legal authority to require a person to undergo drug testing to ascertain if they have taken drugs, except for motorists under specific circumstances. As a result, it is not uncommon for police to find drugs discarded on the floor during inspections at entertainment venues but no further action can be taken unless drugs are found on the person.

Increasingly, the cases of long-time psychotropic drug abusers with serious, even irreversible, health problems raise questions about whether, as a community, we should consider an additional measure to identify those with drug problems in a more timely manner and motivate them to seek help before it becomes too late, hence the consultation exercise.

Second, drug abusers, even if not in the driver's seat, can cause harm to themselves and to others. There have been many cases in recent years in which drug abusers lost control of themselves and inflicted harm on others. Some engage in illegal acts such as drug trafficking in order to pay for their drugs. In addition, the aggravating medical needs of psychotropic substance abusers have increased the burden on the health care and welfare systems.

Third, understanding fully the sensitive issues in seeking to introduce the RESCUE Drug Testing Scheme (RDT), the Action Committee Against Narcotics ( ACAN) advocates that the power to trigger a drug test must be carefully defined. We also propose a series of safeguard measures to protect individual rights, such as third-party presence for urine sample taking, especially for the underaged.

Fourth, as shown by two evaluation studies, the pilot scheme on school drug testing in Tai Po has served its intended objectives of reinforcing students' resolve to resist drugs. It has been formalised as the city-wide "Healthy School Policy with a Drug Testing Component".

ACAN notes that the government has, over the past few years, injected considerable resources into anti-drug programmes. We would recommend to the government the need to proportionally increase resources in related areas if RDT is pursued.

Professor Daniel Shek, ACAN chairman