The Straits Times says

'Soft' drugs can become slippery slope

The appearance of a "soft drugs" culture in Singapore is all the more insidious because it culti- vates the notion that certain intoxicants, such as cannabis, are "cool" because these are rela- tively non-addictive. On the contrary, all drugs can become a slippery slope that can deprive the curious of the ability to help themselves. Drug abuse causes lasting physical, mental, financial, familial and social damage. Hence the need for a no-nonsense anti-drugs regime, which has been a cornerstone of Singapore's nation-building since its independence. The national strategy includes the presence of the death sentence for drug trafficking. This is a sanction whose more targeted use in recent years makes it clear that trade in a commodity which destroys lives will attract the ultimate penalty. What has remained constant over the decades is the logic that the fate of thousands consigned to a living death by drugs outweighs the grim consequences faced by an individual responsible for the availability of drugs.

The clarity of that message could be blurred if the perception of drugs is shaped by a false dichotomy of hard and soft, illicit and cool. The demographic profile of addiction is changing as well, with today's victims being younger and better-educated than their predecessors. Psycho- active substances are becoming more potent and are driving online businesses. The nation cannot afford to lower its guard as it is in a region flush with the supply of drugs.

In the circumstances, it is necessary for the Government to review its strategy for the war on drugs. Clearly, the goal of deterrence must form the hard core of the legal sanctions against abuse, and certainly the trade in drugs. Singapore needs to protect its deterrent culture strenuously from outside influences, particularly from societies that believe in decriminalising the use of certain drugs that are deemed "safe". That is a hallucinatory vision, if ever there was one. Instead, as Parliament heard recently, Singapore's laws must stay abreast of deadly developments in which drugs are being mixed with other substances to increase their potency and addictiveness.

At the same time, Singapore can refine its anti-narcotics policies by imbibing best practices found elsewhere. Finland's early-intervention efforts have produced notable results in keeping the vulnerable off substance abuse. For example, the competitive nature of sports is being harnessed to offer emotional highs to restless adolescents. It provides a psychological outlet for the young who wish to challenge society, its norms and its institutions with the contrarian power of their youthful energy. Singapore needs to explore how such practices could complement its own policies in keeping future generations off the timeless curse of drugs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2017, with the headline ''Soft' drugs can become slippery slope'. Print Edition | Subscribe