Treating 'pure' drug users as patients is right step

Drug addiction is a medical condition and should be treated as such.
Drug addiction is a medical condition and should be treated as such.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

The amendments to drug laws aim to draw a distinction between "pure drug abuse" and criminal offences (Law amended to focus more on rehabilitation of drug abusers; Jan 16).

This is a laudable move in a land that has never shied away from its punitive and deterrent approach for repeat drug offenders.

When the long-term imprisonment scheme came into effect in 1998, hardcore abusers - those caught for the third time or more - were given sentences of at least five years' jail and three strokes of the cane.

It was envisaged that such harsh laws would deter abusers.

However, our relapse rates have remained high, with the five-year recidivism rates for long-term imprisonment inmates at 60 per cent and almost 80 per cent of prisoners in Singapore serving time for drug-related offences.

It is evident that such punitive laws did not achieve the intended results in deterring drug abuse.

Sadly, it has taken more than 20 years for our lawmakers to pin down this fact.

Drug addiction is a medical condition and should be treated as such.

Treating pure drug abusers as patients and not as criminals is the first distinction in getting it right this time.

Mohammed Saleem Mohammed Ibrahim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2019, with the headline 'Treating 'pure' drug users as patients is right step'. Print Edition | Subscribe