The number of new drug abusers aged below 20 rose by 30 per cent to 305 last year, registering the biggest spike across all age groups of first-time abusers.
This group of drug abusers was singled out by Senior Parliamentary Secretary of Home Affairs Amrin Amin yesterday in Parliament, as he spoke on how drug abuse among youth is an area of concern.
To combat the drug scourge, the authorities have relied on preventive education as their first line of defence, with the Central Narcotics Bureau reaching out to students through talks, road shows, social media and projects, said Mr Amrin. "Even as we do more in preventive drug education, we cannot let up on enforcement," he said, noting that the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act were passed in January.
Changes include a new offence targeting those who lead others astray with their drug knowledge, either by facilitating or promoting drug use. Abusers who leave drugs at home and expose children to such drug risks will also be penalised.
Additionally, the drug rehabilitation regime will be strengthened as the ministry will make a distinction between pure abusers who only consume drugs and those who commit other crimes on top of their drug habit, said Mr Amrin.
Pure drug offenders will undergo intensive rehabilitation in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre instead of going through long-term imprisonment.
However, Worker's Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) asked if this new regime would inadvertently benefit those from more affluent families as they would presumably face lower barriers in getting drugs, compared with those from lower-income backgrounds who might resort to crimes to feed their drug habit.
In response, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said data showed that wage earners in the bottom 20th percentile are not more likely to take drugs and commit other crimes, when compared with those who earn more.
While those who only abuse drugs may not need detention, those who abuse drugs and commit other crimes need to be treated differently, he said. He added: "Those in the second category need to be helped to move out of criminality and drugs."
Mr Shanmugam also highlighted a slew of other provisions to help incarcerated drug abusers kick their addiction, such as psychology-based correctional programmes, provided by the prison service, which help address an abuser's underlying drug addiction issues.
Those with a higher risk of reoffending are also given more help through a mandatory after-care scheme, he said. He added: "We will make further changes as necessary. We will monitor closely."