Different approach needed to deal with elderly addicts

Singapore's drug situation is relatively under control because of our tough approach and application of law on all, regardless of age.

However, Justice Choo Han Teck's concern that elderly drug traffickers-cum-addicts are trapped in an unending cycle, and do not have much of a life left to turn around by the time they are released from jail, warrants consideration (Judge raises issue linked to benchmark jail terms; July 8).

Our society does not expect older people to be drug addicts, as drugs are typically linked to youth behaviour. Public services and treatment are, hence, focused on the young.

This must change. But we must be sensitive about how we do this. Dealing with someone who has been an addict for 30 to 40 years is different from dealing with someone who has been on drugs for only a few years.

For those who have been on drugs for their whole lives, we cannot just demand that they get up and change for good. It may even be too late for some to change.

Terminally ill or elderly addict prisoners can be released to care providers with rehabilitation services, so they can live out their last days with dignity.

Harm-reduction programmes could also be considered for this group.

Looking after elderly inmates adds to the healthcare costs of prisons around the world.

Around $28 million a year is spent on general medical and healthcare services in Changi Prison Complex, with another $12 million a year as backup for additional needs.

Ways to cut costs are critical considerations, keeping in mind that the elderly need more frequent care.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2017, with the headline 'Different approach needed to deal with elderly addicts'. Print Edition | Subscribe