Experts worry as some young people soften stance on drugs

PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Survey shows 16% of those aged 13 to 21 had a liberal attitude towards drugs last year, up from 11% in 2013

As some nations decriminalise cannabis - and some of its supporters extol its virtues - a growing number of young people here are also displaying a more laid-back attitude towards the drug.

About a third of them - 33 per cent - do not even think it is addictive. Even more of them - 35 per cent - think it is popular. Nearly one in eight young people - 12.6 per cent - feels it should be legalised.

The shifting attitudes towards drugs in general were highlighted in a survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) released yesterday.

The trend worried some experts who felt that, if left unchecked, this could spawn the next generation of drug abusers.

"This means drugs among young people are beginning to be viewed as acceptable and fun, there is no notion of the risks and danger," said addiction specialist Thomas Lee of The Resilienz Clinic.

 

"Being young, they are also more likely to experiment and might get into drug-abusing habits," he added.

Overall, teenagers and young people here are still strongly against drugs, but the survey showed that the attitudes were softening.

The NCADA Perception Survey 2015/2016 showed that 16 per cent of those aged 13 to 21 had a liberal attitude towards drugs last year, compared with 11 per cent in 2013.

Previously, the study surveyed only people in that age group, but this time the survey was expanded to include those older for a wider range of responses.

The latest survey by NCADA, an advisory council to the Ministry of Home Affairs, polled 2,748 people aged 13 to 30 and 1,212 others aged 31 to 60.

Overall, 81 per cent of those surveyed viewed drugs in a negative light.

But those between 18 and 30, comprising full-time national servicemen, university students and young working adults, displayed more liberal attitudes towards drugs. Statistics have shown that most new abusers are below 30 years old.

Some could have been swayed by popular culture in how they view drugs, especially cannabis.

When probed further in in-depth interviews about cannabis, some of the young respondents also displayed confusion about the drug.

NCADA said this stemmed from online sources which suggested that cannabis had medicinal value.

Young people formed their perceptions on drugs based on what they consumed in the media, the survey found.

Some 68.4 per cent said they had gleaned information about drugs from mass media such as newspapers and radio, while 58 per cent said they obtained it from social media like Facebook. Slightly fewer of them found information about drugs from websites or via preventive drug education efforts.

NCADA chairman Hawazi Daipi cautioned against the softening global attitudes towards drugs.

"We should avoid dichotomising soft drugs and hard drugs because soft drug consumption can lead to hard drug addiction."

He added: "Parents and the public should be aware that the growing number of (drug abuse) victims are young people. While most are still quite conservative in their view of drugs, there is the growing tendency to be more liberal."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 28, 2017, with the headline 'Experts worry as some young people soften stance on drugs'. Print Edition | Subscribe