Singapore studying best practices overseas, building anti-drug coalition

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore is studying Finland’s successful approach in educating youths about drug abuse.
HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM
HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAMST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Singapore is studying efforts by Finland and Iceland in getting their youth away from drugs, and in shaping and presenting messages in ways they find acceptable and accessible, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

He also said the Government has been "taking an active profile internationally" and creating a "coalition of countries... which take the view that each country should decide on its drug laws", as Singapore seeks to fend off international pressure to decriminalise drugs.

Mr Shanmugam was outlining in a recent interview how Singapore adopts best practices and avoids bad practices from other countries in its fight against drugs, as latest data showed new worrying trends.

Close to two-thirds of the 1,347 new drug abusers arrested last year were aged below 30, according to Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) numbers. The number of people arrested for buying drugs and drug- related paraphernalia online rose from 30 in 2015 to 201 last year - more than a six-fold increase.

These are major areas of concern in Singapore's fight against narcotics, said Mr Shanmugam, adding that as generations change, it needs to keep the anti-drug message attractive, accessible and relevant.

REACHING OUT TO TODAY'S YOUNG

Today's young people are different from yesterday's young people. The way they access information is different. What they consider to be attractive, what they consider to be cool, is different. So we have to shape the message and present it in a form that they find acceptable and they find accessible.

HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, on keeping the anti-drug message attractive, accessible and relevant.

He said: "Today's young people are different from yesterday's young people. The way they access information is different. What they consider to be attractive, what they consider to be cool, is different. So we have to shape the message and present it in a form that they find acceptable and they find accessible."

Mr Shanmugam added that some models around the world have worked well in educating young people about drugs.

One such country is Finland.Its Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said on its website that a multidisciplinary approach to drug prevention and early intervention is particularly important for young people.

This involves preventing drug use through school and student welfare teams, which collaborate with parents, substance abuse services, social workers, youth services and the police. Its efforts seem to have paid off. Young people in Finland reportedly use less alcohol and illegal drugs than their European counterparts on average.

Yesterday in Parliament, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore would also be studying Iceland's anti- drug efforts, which adopt a youth- centric approach that has helped lower the proportion of 15- and 16-year-old cannabis abusers from 17 per cent to 7 per cent between 1998 and last year.

Similarly in Singapore, efforts have been made to better reach out to members of the public, especially young people. For example, the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association announced on March 24 that it is offering new services to tackle the drug threat - top of which is an online counselling service. The www.talk2sana.com portal went online the following day with information on drugs and drug abuse, and the consequences.

Although education remains Singapore's first line of defence in the fight against drugs locally, calls to decriminalise drugs internationally are also a cause for concern.

Mr Shanmugam said: "So we have been taking an active profile internationally, creating a coalition of countries, a network of countries which take the view that each country should decide on its drug laws.

"It is good that there are other countries that say, in their own experience, it is better that we keep it criminalised, to make drugs freely available is worse for society."

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore has to take a tough anti-drug stance because it is what a responsible government would do. Stressing that narcotics are harmful and can cause a lot of damage, he added that a rise in other acts of crime can also be attributed to drug abuse.

"With those facts, a responsible government will then say, I need to then limit the problem, roll it back, so that my young people do not get into this habit, and my society is safe," he said.

VIDEO
Singapore steps up on fight against drugs. http://str.sg/48RS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore studying best practices overseas, building anti-drug coalition'. Print Edition | Subscribe