A government plan to give police wider powers to test people suspected to be using drugs faced "strong opposition" in a public consultation exercise, but the government body pushing the idea hopes it will be put before lawmakers within two years.
The scheme, dubbed "Rescue" by its promoter, the Action Committee Against Narcotics, would allow police to force people to undergo tests if there was "reasonable suspicion" that they had taken drugs. Those who failed could be referred for counselling instead of being prosecuted. At present, tests can only be conducted on suspects found with drugs on them.
The committee yesterday revealed the results of its five-month consultation on the idea, which ended in January. It said there had been strong opposition from the legal sector, human rights groups and social workers, with some fearing addicts would be more reluctant to seek help.
But a public survey commissioned for the consultation showed overwhelming support for the scheme, with 91 per cent in favour.
Committee chairman Professor Daniel Shek Tan-lei said there was consensus on the need to identify drug users early, but opinion was divided on how to do so. The committee urged the government to study the details of the scheme and launch a second consultation next year.
"We are facing strong opposition. Some were clear-cut in stating that it would not work. We hope we can rescue those [drug users] who are on the edge and almost falling off," said Dr Tik Chi-yuen, chairman of the body's preventative education and publicity sub-committee.
The consultation received submissions from 2,903 people, with 56 per cent objecting to the plan and 43 per cent in support.
While most submissions from legal and human rights groups opposed the plan, the majority of those from parents and teachers supported it.
Some 60 per cent of submissions said that if the scheme were to go ahead, drug testing should only be allowed when drugs were found near a person and the person showed signs of having taken drugs.
The committee suggested the government introduce a kit for on-the-spot testing of oral fluids, to minimise the need for police to make subjective judgments.
In the public survey conducted by University of Hong Kong researchers for the Security Bureau's narcotics division, some 91 per cent of the 1,004 respondents were in favour of the plan.
The Medical Association is among the bodies opposed to the scheme. President Dr Tse Hung-hing said testing would only help with prosecution, not rehabilitation, as people could not be forced to go into rehab.