New centre to help recovering drug addicts in their rehabilitation opens in Woodlands

Step-Up@Northwest is run by voluntary organisation Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A centre where recovering drug addicts can walk in and receive counselling, employment assistance and tattoo removal services opened in Woodlands on Saturday (May 14).

Run by voluntary organisation Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana), Step-Up@Northwest is the third such centre that aims to enable recovering drug users to "step up" to the challenge of rehabilitation. The other centres are in Sengkang and Taman Jurong.

Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim attended the opening ceremony of the newest centre, which is located on the fourth floor of Ace The Place Community Club.

The centre seeks to help former offenders and their families, and is supported by Path I Choose, a grassroots initiative under the Yellow Ribbon Community Project. The Yellow Ribbon Community Project links trained grassroots volunteers with families of newly incarcerated offenders to offer them support and assistance.

The centre will host peer support groups for recovering drug addicts, as well as hold family-bonding activities to help addicts and their families.

All services at the centres are free except for tattoo removal, which is heavily subsidised.

In his speech at the opening ceremony, Associate Professor Faishal said the new centre will serve those living in the Woodlands, Marsiling and Admiralty areas and that such efforts are important in helping recovering drug users.

He said: "Drug use (can) directly affect our safety and security. For example, drug abuse can lead to violent behaviour, hallucination and loss of control.

"In March this year, we saw several incidents where attackers wielded dangerous weapons, such as knives in public, and threatened the safety of innocent people. We've seen some of these videos on social media. In the course of investigations, it was subsequently found that some of the perpetrators... were suspected to be under the influence of drugs, or had a history of substance abuse.

"These incidents are unfortunate reminders of the harm that drugs can cause our society. They also highlight just how important the efforts of Sana and our community partners are in supporting former drug abusers in their journey of recovery."

Step-Up@Sengkang, which was set up in 2015, and Step-Up@Taman Jurong, launched in July 2019, have assisted about 2,400 recovering drug abusers and their families to date.

Step-Up@Northwest has been operational since July 2020 in a pilot stage, conducting its sessions online owing to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. It reached out to about 300 former drug abusers and their families through phone calls and also organised virtual support group sessions for clients who required counselling.

Mr Riduan Ishak, 48, a business owner who volunteers at Path I Choose, has been helping some of the former offenders during these virtual sessions.

Speaking to the media during a briefing session on Wednesday, Mr Riduan said the support group sessions, during which topics like mental health and finances are discussed, have been well received and that the setting up of the new centre in Woodlands will be helpful in reaching out to more beneficiaries.

Mr Riduan is a former drug offender who has been drug-free for 17 years. Working with those in recovery, he has seen first-hand the prevalence of new psychoactive substances which are being rampantly used by younger drug abusers.

"They are relatively cheap such that a schoolboy can afford it," he said.

He added that those who slip into a life of drugs may feel it is difficult to re-enter society, hence community programmes like the efforts by Sana can go a long way in correcting this.

Said Mr Riduan: "One of the reasons drug offenders relapse is they feel that they have done something bad and there is no turning back. People don't trust them anymore... they will be shunned by society.

"When they see that society is accepting of them, they will change."

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