Call for Asean to join forces against drug abuse, protect the young

Asean can focus its response to the regional drug problem by enhancing efforts to protect the young, heightening legislative measures and strengthening collaboration between countries, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

DPM Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, was giving the opening address at the fifth Asean Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel.

The two-day meeting brings Asean leaders together to shape the organisation's response to the regional drug problem. It also marked the adoption of a new 10-year Asean work plan on securing communities against illicit drugs, which will be reviewed in 2020 and 2024.

Yesterday, Asean ministers also launched an anti-drug-abuse ribbon, white and green in colour, to be used in preventive education campaigns.

DPM Teo noted that upstream efforts will educate youth to say no to drugs. He said countries can exchange information on best practices within Asean, citing a camp in Malaysia to educate at-risk youth, and Singapore's anti-drug toolkits for educators and counsellors.

He said countries must continue "firm and vigorous enforcement" to reduce the drug supply, with legislative measures updated to support agencies. "Robust legislation on asset forfeiture helps us counter the lure of profits from drug trafficking, and disrupt the operations of international drug syndicates," he said.

Asean has to strengthen collaboration within and beyond it as well, said DPM Teo, adding that there has been success in the work carried out at borders and checkpoints to disrupt the drug trade.

"Our agencies can build on the momentum to further cooperate in gathering intelligence and conducting joint operations," he added.

Seeing through the implementation of the activities in the new Asean work plan will support Asean's larger vision of "forging ahead together", he added.

He said the region continues to face a challenging situation worsened by the use of opiates and synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine. There are more than three million heroin users and five million methamphetamine users in East and South-east Asia, according to estimates by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

A survey of more than 100,000 respondents from Europe, Oceania and North and South America found that one in 10 drug users last year bought drugs on the Internet at least once, double those surveyed in 2013.

"To achieve a drug-free Asean and prevent harm from drugs, we must tackle the problem at all levels," said DPM Teo. "We must prevent the drug scourge from taking a further toll on our communities."

The next such meeting will be held in Vietnam in 2018.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Call for Asean to join forces against drug abuse, protect the young'. Print Edition | Subscribe