Compulsory drug tests violate basic human rights, doctors' group says

Medical Association says allowing police to order suspects to take tests would violate human rights and do little for addicts

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:09am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 6:09am

A government plan to make it easier for police to test people for drug use is flawed and a violation of basic human rights, the Medical Association says.

The proposed drug-testing scheme, titled Rescue, would give police the power to test anyone on the street for drugs based on "reasonable suspicion" related to their behaviour and the presence of drugs nearby. A four-month consultation on the plan was launched in September.

At present, police can only test when drugs are found on a suspect.

But the association slammed the consultation paper for failing to offer evidence that the scheme would be effective in providing early identification and treatment for substance abusers.

"Even doctors have a hard time determining whether a person is under the influence of illegal drugs and not alcohol or prescription medicines, let alone a police officer," said association president Dr Tse Hung-hing. "Ordinary citizens would be subject to a lot of inconvenience."

He added: "A scheme which forces a person to provide evidence is against common law and is an intrusion of basic human rights." He said that while it was impossible to eliminate drug abuse, motivational counselling was the best way to reduce it.

Dr Cheng Chi-man, chairman of the association's beat drugs action committee and an expert in youth drug abuse, said forcing people to undergo drug tests would not solve the issue as 80 per cent of drug abusers were "hidden" abusers - who took drugs discretely, often at home.

"The scheme will not help drug users in the long-run as after their release there is a high chance they will go back to using," he said. "Drug distribution channels are becoming more sophisticated … We must look at the whole system and tackle the problem at its source."

Former association president Dr Gabriel Choi Kin said the government's view that drug users should be treated as criminals was outdated.

"Many developed societies are moving away from treating drug users as criminals, and more as patients," he said, citing the Canadian city of Vancouver's supervised illegal drug injection clinics as one extreme case.

The association wants more anti-drug promotional campaigns involving the media, schools, parents and social workers - measures it says have proven effective. It also suggested closer co-operation with mainland police to tackle trafficking.

The Action Committee Against Narcotics, the government's advisory body on drugs, says new testing rules are necessary to prevent a rise in drug use in people's homes. It proposes giving police the power to order tests when there are "reasonable grounds, based on strong circumstantial conditions, to suspect that the person has taken drugs".

People found to be taking drugs would be referred to counselling and treatment programmes.

The number of reported drug abusers in the first half of the year decreased by 10 per cent year-on-year from 6,895 to 6,192, according to the latest figures from the Central Registry of Drug Abuse.