70% of new drug abusers arrested are aged below 30

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers conducted an islandwide enforcement blitz over four days, from Jan 25, 2016.
The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers conducted an islandwide enforcement blitz over four days, from Jan 25, 2016.PHOTO: ZAOBAO

CNB data also shows cannabis replaced heroin as second-most abused drug

More new drug abusers were arrested last year and nearly 70 per cent of them were aged below 30.

According to statistics released by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) yesterday, 3,338 drug abusers were arrested last year, a 6 per cent increase from the figure a year before.

This is largely attributed to an increase in new, young drug abusers - 283 people aged below 20 were arrested, almost 1-1/2 times the previous year's figure.

Out of 1,311 new abusers arrested, 901 of them - more than two-thirds - were aged below 30.

For new drug abusers, cannabis has replaced heroin as the second- most abused drug.

Cannabis seizures grew by about 26 per cent to 44.29kg last year, more than double the 15.57kg recovered in 2013.

According to Mr Eddie Joseph, assistant director of halfway house Teen Challenge, this is worrying as the substance can be a "gateway drug" for first-timers. A reason for its popularity could be how it is seen as "recreational, medical and not as harmful" as drugs such as Ice or heroin, although this may not be the case.

"Sooner or later, (drug abusers') tolerance levels will go up and they will turn to other substances such as new psychoactive substances (NPS)," said Mr Joseph. "We seldom have people sent here for the use of cannabis, but many of them have experimented with it before."

The value of drugs seized last year rose by about 5 per cent to around $8.56 million.

Besides the increase in cannabis seized, the number of Subutex tablets recovered jumped from 12 to 620, while 3,172 NPS tablets and 3.54kg of NPS were seized - up from 470 tablets and 114g respectively the year before.

Close to two times more Erimin-5 tablets were recovered as well.

The number of inhalant abusers arrested fell by 19 per cent to 96.

Ice and heroin continue to be the drugs abused by more than 90 per cent of those arrested, with Ice now the most abused drug.

This comes as the largest seizures of Ice were in East Asia and South-east Asia, according to the 2015 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Some 88 tonnes of Ice were recovered in 2013, up from 34 tonnes in 2009.

The CNB said that to "tackle the challenging regional drug situation", it conducted 11 joint operations with its foreign counterparts last year. These included two joint operations with Malaysia's Narcotics Crime Investigation Department, one of which dismantled a drug-trafficking syndicate based in Malaysia.

"There are signs of increasingly tolerant attitudes towards drugs, particularly among older youth," said CNB director Ng Ser Song.

The CNB plans to reach out to older youth, and preventive drug education remains the first line of defence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline '70% of new drug abusers arrested are aged below 30'. Print Edition | Subscribe