Mandatory drug test plan may overload social workers

Social workers express concerns over proposed mandatory drug-testing scheme that could see overstretched groups inundated with cases

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 12:27am

A church group that works with drug addicts says an expected surge in cases if a proposed government drug-testing scheme goes ahead could further strain overloaded social workers.

Under the scheme, which would give police powers to conduct mandatory drug tests in certain situations, individuals who fail tests would be referred to social groups for treatment.

The government began a four-month consultation on community drug testing today. A second round of consultation will follow next year, during which more details will be revealed on how and under what circumstances police will carry out mandatory drug tests.

The scheme was first put forward by former justice secretary Wong Yan-lung in a 2008 report.

But its introduction has been delayed because of concerns that mandatory testing could infringe human rights.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church Social Service says it lacks resources to help people who did not choose to be rehabilitated.

Staying clean from drugs depended on an addict's determination to quit and their ability to deal with problems in their lives, said Patrick Ho Hin-ming, the group's service director for drug rehabilitation.

"Drug abuse is an indicator of the many personal and family problems that they may have, which led them to do drugs in the first place," said Ho.

Addicts are increasingly difficult to identify, as many use drugs at home and ketamine - the most popular illegal drug in the city in recent years - has limited obvious withdrawal symptoms.

The church group worries that its social workers will be swamped. It says this is already the case in districts such as Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai - where the eight social workers for the two districts handle 50 cases each in a month.

The group also expressed concerns about how the drug testing would be carried out, saying it should not be done on the street but by police inspectors, and in the presence of an independent third party.

An independent appeal system should be set up, the group added, with a review panel comprising legislators, lawyers and human rights advocates.

It also cautioned against a rigid approach whereby offenders would be prosecuted if they didn't pass the test a certain number of times.