Asean ministers to discuss regional anti-drug strategy

Asean leaders will discuss today a new work plan for the next decade to secure the community against illicit drugs, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

This plan will set out the countries' collective actions for the next decade, covering areas such as prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, enforcement and cooperation between member states.

It is expected to be reviewed in 2020 and 2024 to check if it is on track, said Mr Shanmugam yesterday at a welcome dinner for the fifth Asean Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

Held over two days, the meeting brings Asean leaders together to shape the region's response to the regional drug problem.

South-east Asia is "especially vulnerable", said Mr Shanmugam, as it has the Golden Triangle, which presents "very complex challenges not only in terms of drug enforcement but also in terms of the economic situation" - poverty, crime and conflict.

The area is formed by highlands at the confluence of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, and is one of the world's top producers of drugs.

Drug abuse by young people, many of whom are moving towards synthetic drugs, is also a serious problem, Mr Shanmugam added. They tend to think they are in control and can kick the habit after trying the drugs, but this leads to addiction and a long road to recovery, he said.

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam also cited new drug abuse trends, such as the abuse of "more and newer" psychoactive substances.

An estimated 100 new psychoactive substances are reported every year.

Drug abuse by young people, many of whom are moving towards synthetic drugs, is also a serious problem, he added.

They tend to think they are in control and can kick the habit after trying the drugs, but this leads to addiction and a long road to recovery, he said.

Statistics show that more people under 30 are getting hooked on drugs. They made up the bulk of the 729 new drug abusers the Central Narcotics Bureau arrested in the first half of the year.

While there have been calls to abandon the vision of having "drug-free" societies in favour of "drug-tolerant" ones, he said the Asean position is to maintain a zero-tolerance approach.

Mr Shanmugam also highlighted "significant progress" made over the years, such as intensifying anti-drug trafficking operations, successfully disrupting syndicates, and improving the coordination and information flow between drug enforcement agencies.

He urged member states to "maintain our resolve in Asean and do what we know is the best for our people".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline 'Asean ministers to discuss regional anti-drug strategy'. Print Edition | Subscribe