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ACAN announces conclusion of consultation on RESCUE Drug Testing Scheme (with photo)
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The following is issued on behalf of the Action Committee Against Narcotics:

     The Action Committee Against Narcotics (ACAN) announced today (July 2) the conclusion of the public consultation on the RESCUE Drug Testing Scheme (RDT).

     The ACAN noted that there was a strong case to continue to explore the RDT, taking into account the strong public support for the scheme and the successful operation of a similar scheme in Sweden. However, as views were divided among certain professional bodies and stakeholders, the ACAN recommended that the Government should continue to engage the relevant parties in discussion while working out the specific proposals of RDT.

     Speaking at a press conference today, ACAN Chairman Professor Daniel Shek said that during the four-month consultation between September 2013 and January 2014, about 2 800 written submissions were collected. The Public Opinion Programme (POP) of the University of Hong Kong was commissioned to conduct an opinion poll after the consultation to gauge public views on the RDT.

     Professor Shek said that according to the opinion poll conducted by POP between February and March 2014, the concept of the RDT had overwhelming public support. More than 90 per cent of the 1 000 plus respondents supported the RDT, while 61 per cent believed that the scheme would be effective in achieving its objective of identifying drug abusers and referring them to treatment at an early stage.

     Professor Shek said the written submissions carried more divided views. A simple count indicated that the number of supporters and opponents accounted for 45 per cent and 54 per cent respectively, with close to half of the submissions drawn from standardised templates.

     Professor Shek said, "Many respondents in support of the scheme noted that the RDT was well intended in offering help to drug abusers, rather than to seek to punish them. It would provide an effective intervention at an early stage, before drug abusers notice the long-term or even irreversible health damage caused by drugs.

     "Opponents of the RDT were concerned about the infringement of human rights and possible abuse of power by law enforcement officers (LEOs). Some questioned the effectiveness of the RDT and the motive of proposing the scheme in the absence of specific proposals from the Administration."

     Professor Shek noted that the compulsory drug testing scheme in Sweden was often quoted as an example akin to the RDT during the consultation. The ACAN made a visit to Sweden to look into its operation, and learnt that Sweden had a successful drug testing regime which was widely approved by its parliament and people.

     Professor Shek said, "There is overwhelming support from members of the public, including the support of over 90 per cent of respondents in an independent poll and certain quarters of the community like parents, drug abusers and ex-drug abusers, and people who are closely involved in providing services to drug abusers. Although views in the submissions were more divided, there was general support for the need to do more to facilitate early identification of drug abusers for early intervention. The ACAN urges the Government to continue to explore the RDT."

     ACAN has put forward a series of recommendations for immediate follow-up by the Government:

(a) To continue to explore details of the RDT and to continue dialogue with stakeholders, professional bodies and members of the public;

(b) To foster a more favourable environment for considering the RDT, including examining ways to minimise professional bodiesíŽ concerns about infringement of human rights and civil liberties through efforts to expedite the development of a test kit for rapid oral fluid testing, and enhance trust and rapport between law enforcement officers and social workers in helping people with drug problems;

(c) To develop a follow-up mechanism which could effectively balance giving a chance to the drug abusers but mandating counselling and treatment, an issue considered by many anti-drug workers to be instrumental to the success of the RDT; and

(d) To share overseas experience in drug testing with stakeholders.

     Professor Shek said that ACAN recommended that the Government should roll out proposals for operational details for a second-stage public consultation as soon as practicable.

     The ACAN launched a four-month public consultation exercise on the RDT between September 2013 and January 2014. The aim of the scheme is to have an additional means to identify drug abusers early and to refer them to counselling and treatment programmes in a timely manner. Under the RDT, it is envisaged that when there are reasonable grounds, based on strong circumstantial conditions, to suspect that a person had taken illicit drugs, LEOs would be empowered by law to require that person to undergo drug testing procedures.

     The report on Consultation Conclusion on the RDT is available on the Narcotics Division website (www.nd.gov.hk).

Ends/Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Issued at HKT 17:49

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