Key issues missing in new anti-drug strategy

It was good to see MPs calling for better rehabilitation strategies, such as more effective counselling and greater emphasis on family therapy for drug users, and for more work to be done on education and raising awareness of drug abuse (New anti-drug strategy to meet rising challenges; April 4).

But what was missing was the recognition that addiction is an illness or disease - as stated on the websites of the Institute of Mental Health and National Addictions Management System - and needs the use of a medical model rather than a punitive one.

In implementing the new anti-drug strategy, the authorities should consider moving the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) from a prisons setting to a community setting, as with the Community Rehabilitation Centre (CRC).

In fact, to save on critical resources like psychiatrists, psychologists, counsellors and correction/rehabilitation specialists, the DRC could be co-located with the CRC.

This setting will allow for greater family interaction, and encourage activities that promote physical, mental and spiritual health, which are crucial for recovering drug users.

There was also the lack of recognition of the psychosocial and socioeconomic factors that drive individuals to drug use and keep them there. These include emotional or sexual abuse when young, financial problems and other addictions.

We should consider delinking the Central Narcotics Bureau from the drug rehabilitative, education and awareness programmes as it reminds users about the penal connection. Instead, bring in an agency from the health or social and family development ministry, whose mission represents and reinforces the social, medical and compassionate overtures that drug users need.

Lastly, Parliament did not discuss sufficiently the stigma against recovering drug users. If we want to lower recidivism rates, we need to stamp out the stigma, starting with the Government's acceptance of recovering drug users as public-sector employees.

While education and awareness can help, it is the non-conditional and non-judgmental acceptance of recovering users in the workplace that will make a difference.

Kuharajahsingam Karalasingam

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Key issues missing in new anti-drug strategy'. Print Edition | Subscribe