Anti-drug message for youth 'to be repackaged'

Singapore Polytechnic students dressed in a combination outfit of a regular person and a drug addict for a publicity event during the Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign in 2013. -- PHOTO: CENTRAL NARCOTICS BUREAU 
Singapore Polytechnic students dressed in a combination outfit of a regular person and a drug addict for a publicity event during the Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign in 2013. -- PHOTO: CENTRAL NARCOTICS BUREAU 

Task force to look for more effective methods to tackle growing problem

The anti-drug message that youth receive has to be repackaged, given the increasing normalisation of drug use overseas and in popular culture.

This is one area which a multi-agency task force - formed to tackle the growing problem of drug abuse among Singapore youth - is mulling over, said task force chairman Masagos Zulkifli.

It is looking to present its recommendations to the authorities in six months' time.

In an interview with The Straits Times, Mr Masagos, who is also Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, said the anti-drug message needs to be put across in an indirect manner. "We don't want to do it in a way that's in the face," he said.

The task force chairman has roped in schools, tertiary institutions, the Health Promotion Board, National Youth Council, and the National Addictions Management Service of the Institute of Mental Health, among other agencies, to address the youth drug problem.

Among other things, the task force will commission surveys and hold focus group discussions to figure out the best way to deliver better messages on drug abuse to youth.

Over the past decade, the number of drug abusers under 20 who were arrested increased by an average of 7 per cent a year. For those between 20 and 29, the figure was 11 per cent.

A survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse conducted last year showed that while most people hold a negative attitude towards drug abuse, a greater proportion of those aged 17 to 21 are more likely to think that "it's all right to try drugs for a new experience".

Mr Masagos said that with drugs available via the Internet today, and with supplies of drugs such as methamphetamine on the rise in the region, the drug threat is real.

But while it may tweak the way it delivers its message about drugs, the Government will remain resolute in its zero-tolerance stance towards drug abuse.

Mr Masagos pointed to Singapore's experience of using Subutex as a prescription drug to treat heroin dependence. "You had doctors who became (drug) pushers," he said.

Subutex was the target of abuse by as many as 5,000 addicts at its peak, before becoming a controlled drug in 2006.

amirh@sph.com.sg