New anti-drug strategy to meet rising challenges

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore is studying Finland’s successful approach in educating youths about drug abuse.

More young addicts, threat of more potent substances available online among concerns

A new wave of younger, better-educated addicts, more potent psychoactive substances that could be made available online and a region flush with the supply of drugs have made it necessary for the Government to review its strategy for the war on drugs, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament said yesterday.

In its arsenal will be possibly new legislation as well as new ways to reach out to young people, with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) launching a new United Against Drugs Coalition later this month.

One thing that will not change - Singapore's tough stand on drugs and the death penalty for traffickers, especially amid international pressure to decriminalise drugs.

Mr Shanmugam called for the anti-drug fight to be made a "national priority" as he responded to a motion tabled by Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) in Parliament on drug issues.

The growing number of young addicts was a top concern. He said more than 350 students have been caught for drug abuse over the past three years. Also, 70 professionals and managers were arrested for such offences last year, dispelling the notion that it was a problem that affected only certain segments of the community.

 
 
 
 
 
 

The risk of a new generation of drug abusers stems from changing attitudes among the youth, who think that drugs are cool and that cannabis is not addictive.

"The situation can again become more troublesome even if it doesn't get out of control," he said.

Providing more details, the Home Affairs Ministry said 151 Singaporeans and permanent residents studying in primary to tertiary public educational institutions were caught for drug offences last year, up from 83 in 2014. The number of professionals or managers caught rose from 49 in 2014 to 70 last year.

Mr Shanmugam added that drug offenders were responsible for 12 per cent of 32,964 non-drug crimes committed last year and that some 83 per cent of the prison population have histories of substance abuse, though some may have committed a crime not related to drugs.

To tackle the trends of younger abusers and online drug buying, Mr De Souza called for regular reviews to the Misuse of Drugs Act - in particular, making drug crimes involving the use of the Internet a unique offence.

Mr Shanmugam said the authorities will be reviewing the strategy and be more targeted in the fight against drugs to differentiate between those who supply drugs and those who consume them, employing data and a science-based approach.

This comes as South-east Asia is the fastest-growing market for methamphetamine. The global conversation now is also "about a softer stance on drugs". "Seductive arguments, using pseudo science and glamorising drugs," he said.

Among 10 other MPs who spoke in support of the motion yesterday was Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who recounted how her 18-year-old son, while studying in a polytechnic, was offered marijuana by his friends, who seemed to think it was not a big deal.

But the most spirited part of the debate was on the death penalty, with two MPs speaking against it.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'New anti-drug strategy to meet rising challenges'. Print Edition | Subscribe