How to stop young peo­ple tak­ing drugs?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - HO HON- KUEN The au­thor is vice-chair­man of Ed­u­ca­tion Con­ver­gence.

The Ac­tion Com­mit­tee Against Nar­cotics (ACAN) has re­leased a paper on the RES­CUE Drug Test­ing Scheme, with the pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion to end in Jan­uary. From what we saw in me­dia re­ports and re­sponses from the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, not much dis­cus­sion on the paper has fol­lowed. Is this be­cause peo­ple are too busy to care or are sim­ply not in­ter­ested?

Statis­tics show that in any society the so­cial costs of pro­vid­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for drug users im­prove when drug bans and pre­ven­tive mea­sures work. In an­cient times, be­fore west­ern ideas changed our views about death penalty, the govern­ment only needed to an­nounce a to­tal ban on drugs and en­sure drug abusers were ex­e­cuted. To­day, how­ever, drug abusers find many ex­cuses to jus­tify their il­le­gal ac­tions and win sym­pa­thy — not to men­tion ben­e­fit­ing from the spread of hu­man rights ideas. So it has be­come a great chal­lenge for gov­ern­ments to pro­vide test­ing and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices. You could call it the “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” ap­proach.

Af­ter read­ing all 31 pages of the con­sul­ta­tion paper, I con­sider it is a thought­ful­ly­composed and se­ri­ous doc­u­ment. It notes on Page 4 that some ex­perts be­lieve the num­ber of drug abusers aged 21 to 30 has in­creased be­cause many only be­gan abus­ing when they were teenagers and were only re­cently dis­cov­ered. It points out on Page 9 that drug abuse has be­come in­creas­ingly covert in re­cent years. This is de­spite in­creased ef­forts by the govern­ment and peo­ple fight­ing drug abuse. The sooner we find the hid­den abusers and en­cour­age them to seek help, the bet­ter.

The em­pha­sis of the doc­u­ment is clearly on timely preven­tion and treat­ment. But the govern­ment must tread care­fully in pro­mot­ing drug test­ing and early re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in

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ay, drug abusers find many ex­cuses to jus­tify their il­le­gal ac­tions and win sym­pa­thy — not to men­tion ben­e­fit­ing from the spread of hu­man rights ideas. So it has be­come a great chal­lenge for gov­ern­ments to pro­vide test­ing and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices.”

Hong Kong. Peo­ple are very pro­tec­tive of their free­doms and hu­man rights. The con­sul­ta­tion paper makes a good point in ad­vo­cat­ing early test­ing for more ef­fec­tive elim­i­na­tion, on one hand, but avoid­ing in­fringe­ments of in­di­vid­ual rights, on the other. This is to keep the RES­CUE scheme from be­ing in­ter­preted as an at­tempt to in­vade peo­ple’s pri­vacy. The paper only im­plies what the ACAN thinks should be done with the scheme, in­stead of stat­ing frankly what it will do.

In terms of my per­sonal un­der­stand­ing of the con­sul­ta­tion paper I be­lieve the RES­CUE Drug Test­ing Scheme wants to achieve the fol­low­ing: First, op­er­a­tives of the scheme have the power to en­force it at pub­lic venues when they have rea­son­able ev­i­dence; Sec­ond, op­er­a­tives can rec­om­mend a drug abuser to a re­hab fa­cil­ity when there is suffi cient ev­i­dence, but will not pros­e­cute that per­son. If that per­son is a re­cidi­vist of­fender, he or she will be dealt with dif­fer­ently. There are sim­i­lar, even harsher mea­sures, in coun­tries such as Swe­den, Sin­ga­pore and Bri­tain over treat­ment of re­cidi­vist drug abusers.

Drugs are a hor­ri­ble scourge. Any­one ad­dicted to them can ruin their lives and other peo­ples. I agree with the prin­ci­ple of timely in­ter­ven­tion and early treat­ment, but I am more in­ter­ested in the ex­pe­ri­ences of other coun­tries. We can learn a lot from them on how peo­ple who run test­ing and re­hab pro­grams pro­vide train­ing, and how they con­vince peo­ple to take drug tests and win over law­mak­ers to sup­port these schemes. The key to the suc­cess of such pro­grams is the govern­ment’s com­mit­ment to them. They are an in­vest­ment in a healthy fu­ture.

In schools and other ed­u­ca­tion fa­cil­i­ties im­ple­ment­ing such pro­grams has been dif­fi­cult. This is be­cause of con­cerns about hu­man rights and pri­vacy as well as wor­ries about in­ter­rupt­ing classes and teach­ers. It has been prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble to carry out car­pet test­ing to lo­cate drug-abus­ing stu­dents in schools. This makes it all the more ur­gent to ac­ti­vate the RES­CUE Drug Test­ing Scheme on cam­puses soon — prefer­ably with more govern­ment fund­ing and more well-trained staff. This will help es­tab­lish a mech­a­nism to al­low so­cial work­ers to re­fer drug-abus­ing stu­dents to re­hab fa­cil­i­ties as soon as their il­le­gal acts are con­firmed. This is the only way to im­ple­ment the scheme on cam­puses. Schools and teach­ers, alone, can­not han­dle a chal­lenge like this.

No doubt it is ex­tremely hard to reach com­mon un­der­stand­ing over the RES­CUE scheme. But that should not be an ex­cuse to give up. How­ever di­verse our views on deal­ing with drug abuse are, there can be no dis­agree­ment that it should be erad­i­cated.

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