Hong Kong has never been a drug-free society. But after a number of cases of students abusing ketamine were widely reported, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen intervened personally this month to speed up the introduction of anti-drug initiatives. Mr Tsang told the Legislative Council that the situation among young people in Hong Kong was 'much worse than expected' and announced a pilot scheme of voluntary testing at secondary schools in Tai Po, starting in September, which would then be implemented in other areas. But now there are worries that drug-taking youngsters will be driven away from schools under the new scheme. And those who try to help young drug abusers fear the new tests will merely make it harder to do so. The Security Bureau's narcotics division said schools had pledged not to expel students or prosecute them if they tested positive for drugs. Officials said the Tai Po trial was designed to prevent drug abuse and identify young users early. But what if drug users just decide to skip school? Fifteen-year-old Joey Leung, a Form Four student in Tuen Mun, said that young drug takers would just stay away from school if there was a danger of being tested. 'I would not go to school; I'd just say I am sick. There are many excuses to skip school,' she said, adding that she had taken ketamine. She said drug testing might not be an effective way to single out student drug users. 'Usually, we don't take drugs at school. We take them on the backstairs of a building or at a friend's house,' she said. 'We usually go to the disabled people's toilets or those that are rarely used,' she said. 'Those toilets are spacious, allowing a few people to take ketamine inside and then we separate afterwards.' She said she thought student drug takers would not tell others about their habit. But social workers disagree. They say many talk to them about their drug habits because they trust them. 'It is important to gain the trust of these students. When they trust you, they will tell you about their drug-taking habits,' Jessica Ng Lai-man, a social worker in Tuen Mun, said. But Ms Ng is worried that such relationships will be more difficult to build once testing begins. 'Once the drug tests start, those youngsters who have tested positive will be forced to have treatment. Instead of having the motivation to change, they will think you are testing them. It is difficult to build up a trusting relationship with students under these circumstances,' she said. Many in the social services sector are worried, given the experience of testing in schools overseas. A report by the Australian National Council on Drugs in 2008 found that most drug tests were not reliable enough for use in schools. Half of those interviewed said there would be no advantage from such testing and nearly all respondents said it would lead to mistrust between students and staff. Lynn Law, of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, said she had studied various jurisdictions. She had found no reports suggesting that drug testing was effective but it did increase schools' legal liabilities and was costly to implement. 'Even Australia, which did so much research and preparation work in advance of introducing testing, did not find tests at school effective,' she said, adding that she was worried about the situation in Hong Kong schools because there had been so little time to prepare. 'For example, there are so many ways to affect the accuracy of a urine test,' she said. In a drug rehabilitation centre, a worker of the same sex has to be present, to monitor the process. 'Will it be insulting to those who have not taken any drugs but were chosen to be tested?' Ms Law asked. 'It would make helping young people with a drug problem more difficult because some of them will leave school once the tests start. In the past, we could go to rave parties or discos to get these young people out. But it is going to be tougher, as some of them will stay at home and become marginalised. There seems to be no research findings from the US or the UK to support that drug tests in school are an effective tool in drug detection and screening. Though some might cite Singapore as an example, Hong Kong is just a different society,' Ms Law, who has lived in Singapore, said. A Hong Kong government task-force report on youth drug abuse last year noted that, in Singapore, schools did not need government approval for testing. If a US school decided that drugs were a significant threat, it could seek federal, state and local funding to run tests. The British government supported random testing in 2004, but schools still need the consent of students and parents for testing. In Hong Kong, social-sector representatives did not question the intention to fight drug abuse, but said they believed more preparation was needed before the trials. 'The chief executive asks us to cross the river by groping for each stone. However, [this is just like] prescribing drugs with a trial-and-error approach. It may cure the patient, but it may also kill him,' said Max Szeto Ming-wong, superintendent of Hong Kong Christian Service Jockey Club Lodge of Rising Sun, a drug treatment centre in Tuen Mun. Mr Szeto, who has been involved in drug rehabilitation services for more than 30 years, said he envisaged many problems without thorough preparation and other follow-up measures. 'Who is going to pay for the urine test? Parents or schools? Which institution is going to conduct the tests and how are they going to be handled?' he asked. The government will pay testing costs during the Tai Po trial, but the issue will be revisited in relation to future schemes. 'How long is that data going to be stored? Mr Szeto said. 'Who has the right to hold this data? Even if a student tests positive, we would not know how long the student had been a drug taker. There is a need for lots of follow-up, for further assessment. Consider Tai Po. There are 22,000 secondary school students there. Statistics show that 2 to 6 per cent of students might be drug takers. If we consider 4 per cent of these students will test positive, that's about 1,000 students. This would outnumber the total youth drug rehabilitation places in Hong Kong.' There are about 500 rehabilitation places for young drug takers in Hong Kong. One social worker who works with youth drug users in Tai Po, Billy Tang Kam-piu, a supervisor at Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service, said he expected that only a few 'party drug users' would be identified. 'The measure might affect 5 per cent of 'silly students',' he said. 'What will happen to these students? We know that some schools use different reasons, like smoking, to kick students out once they are found to be a drug taker.' Hong Kong International School, widely cited as a school which already tests students for drugs, was unwilling to disclose the details. However, one person familiar with the situation said students were expelled if they tested positive. 'According to my understanding, students who test positive in international schools will be kicked out at once,' the person said. 'Before being expelled, a student can go back to school after attending a [rehabilitation] course that lasts six months. It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not many Hong Kong parents can afford this.' Mr Szeto suggested that clear guidelines be set up for schools to follow. 'It is important to state what the school should do once students test positive. It is impossible to depend solely on the judgment of different principals.' But Kwok Wing-keung, chairman of the Association of Secondary School heads of Tai Po district, pointed out that the government should have faith in schools. 'Every school has experience in handling misbehaviour,' she said. The Security Bureau's narcotics division advises that those in the early stages of experimentation should continue normal schooling, and also receive counselling. For heavy abusers, arrangements should be made with one of the 39 residential rehab centres. After completing a programme, the student should return to normal schooling or otherwise reintegrate into the community.