Voluntary drug tests in schools must be implemented as soon as possible and would be useful even if students ditched school to avoid the screening, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said as he defended the controversial pilot scheme. For the first time the chief executive openly addressed religious groups' reservations over the measure, including the Catholic Church's proposal to defer the trial for a year. 'Evasions and delays will only deepen the problems, but will not solve the problems,' Mr Tsang said yesterday after attending an RTHK forum to discuss youth drug problems with parents. Noting doubts recently voiced about the feasibility and effectiveness of the scheme, he stressed that the aim of the drug tests was to help young people, not to punish them. 'Even if students refuse to take the drug tests, or evade school, it will give a clear message to schools, social workers and parents, telling them to intervene and to counsel these students,' Mr Tsang said. Vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong Father Michael Yeung Ming-cheung said last week that students with drug problems might find ways around getting tested, such as skipping classes. The Hong Kong Buddhist Association and teachers' group Education Convergence have also cautioned against rushing the scheme. But Mr Tsang said the Education Bureau would proceed with the scheme, which is scheduled to begin in Tai Po district early next month. At the RTHK forum, the chief executive gave religious encouragement to a rehabilitated drug user. A student who gave his name as Ka-kei shared his experience of quitting drugs and Mr Tsang responded by presenting him with a Christian cross as a gift for his 16th birthday. 'Jesus was reborn and carried out his big mission. I hope you can do that too,' Mr Tsang, who is a Catholic, told Ka-kei. On another radio programme, Father Yeung reiterated that the church was not opposing all drug tests, but said schools did not have sufficient manpower for the programme. 'At least the number of social workers and teachers should be increased,' he said. Social Welfare Director Stephen Fisher has said he expected demand for drug counselling would increase. 'If there is suddenly a surge in the number [of people requiring counselling], it may impose pressure on existing services,' he said. While the government would try to meet the increased need, Mr Fisher said additional services would be created in the long run. 'We will need more services and we have already applied for resources in a bid to support the pilot scheme,' he said. Executive Council convenor Leung Chun-ying said the drug-testing programme should not be postponed, but the government should keep an open mind and listen to suggestions for improvement.