Changes to rehab regime based on substantial evidence: Shanmugam

The move to strengthen Singapore's drug rehabilitation regime by channelling some abusers from long-term imprisonment to rehabilitation is based on knowledge and experience built up over the years.

This evidence-based approach is how the Republic will continue to tackle the drug problem, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said in Parliament yesterday before the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill was passed.

"The knowledge and the experience built up over the last 20 years enable us to take a risk-based approach which, as far as possible, takes into consideration an individual's risk and protective factors so that the intervention is most effective and appropriate," he said.

The philosophy of a drug-free Singapore has not changed, he added in his response to some MPs expressing concern that the changes may be perceived as the Government "going soft" on drugs.

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) said he saw the changes as an example of rational and sensible policymaking, but some may "erroneously construe this shift as a relaxation of attitudes towards hardcore addicts".

Mr Shanmugam, stressing that the shift was based on a "substantive body of evidence-based work", said: "We will have no hesitation in refining or even changing our policies based on evidence."

The debate attracted a slew of responses from the 16 MPs who spoke. These ranged from Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) lamenting the increasingly liberal attitude of young adults towards drugs to Nominated MP Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad noting the inflexible timings and delays drug abusers face during urine tests.

 
 
 

All, however, backed the new law, which aims, among others, to tackle "contaminative behaviours" like teaching a person to engage in drug-related crimes. The crime carries a jail term of up to 10 years.

The law also states that adults who recklessly expose children to drugs or drug-related paraphernalia can be jailed for up to 10 years, in the case of first-time offenders.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) was pleased with the move as anecdotal evidence shows children of addicts or those living with drug abusers are more likely to be influenced and trapped in the "unsavoury world of drug addiction".

MPs also supported making it compulsory for parents or guardians of young drug abusers to attend counselling, with many acknowledging the benefits of family support.

Failure to attend the sessions could result in a fine of up to $5,000 or a court order to attend them.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) suggested expanding the list to include all immediate family members, like an abuser's siblings.

"This could go some ways to help prevent the siblings from turning to drug abuse too," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2019, with the headline 'Changes to rehab regime based on substantial evidence: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe