Drug addicts to get online counselling via live chat service

Sana executive director Abdul Karim hopes the live chat service will be able to reach those "too afraid to pick up the phone" for help.
Sana executive director Abdul Karim hopes the live chat service will be able to reach those "too afraid to pick up the phone" for help.

Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association's pilot scheme, part of its new portal, starts in July

The Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana) is offering new services to tackle the drug threat - top of which is an online counselling service.

Those looking for help can already call the Sana hotline, but executive director Abdul Karim said some are "too afraid to pick up the phone or visit us personally for advice". He hopes the anonymity of the live chat service, which will be launched on July 1, will encourage more to seek help to kick the habit.

The live chat is one of the features of talk2SANA, the voluntary welfare organisation's new online portal. The portal is part of Sana's new brand identity, which will focus on connecting with young people.

Sana also unveiled its new logo yesterday. It features an elevated "A", which represents an individual taking flight.

Mr Abdul Karim said: "We believe that every one of us can stand tall, rise above peer pressure, instant thrills and self-doubt."

The www.talk2sana.com portal goes online today with information on drugs and drug abuse and its consequences.

  • Former junkie lauds initiative

  • A former drug abuser has given the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association's (Sana) upcoming live chat the thumbs up.

    The safety and security officer, who wanted to be known only as Mr Noor, 32, said: "I will highly recommend it to current drug abusers who need help."

    Mr Noor has had his own personal struggles with substance abuse. He was just 18 years old when he was sentenced to reformative training for drug-related offences and rioting.

    Offenders given this punishment have to spend between 18 months and three years in a reformative training centre and follow a strict regimen that includes foot drills and counselling.

    He was released when he was 20. But he continued abusing drugs soon after and was arrested a second time just months later.

    Besides drug-related offences, he was also convicted of robbery and was jailed for four years with caning. He said: "I abused drugs when I was younger due to peer pressure. My friends were also drug abusers. This new live chat will give drug abusers an avenue to seek immediate advice and help them turn over a new leaf."

    Para counsellor Melissa Neo, 35, said the anonymous live chat "makes Sana's services a lot more accessible". She hopes that after the chats, those seeking help will meet the counsellors face to face. "We can create a better rapport when we meet them this way."

    Shaffiq Alkhatib

At the launch yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee called the change a timely one as he highlighted three challenges that Singapore faces in tackling the drug problem.

One challenge is the increase in the number of young drug abusers. Mr Lee said close to two-thirds of new abusers arrested last year were below 30 years old.

He also said young people are influenced by the growing acceptance of recreational drug use overseas, such as the use of cannabis.

The availability of narcotics online is another challenge. Mr Lee pointed out that last year, about 200 people were caught buying drugs and drug-related paraphernalia off the Internet, compared with just 30 in 2015.

The third challenge involves the active push by many groups internationally to legalise, commercialise and market the recreational use of drugs.Many half-truths or falsehoods about drug use have been put into circulation online, he said.

Mr Lee said: "Some claim that cannabis is not harmful. This is not true.

"There is clear evidence that cannabis is both harmful and addictive. For example, prolonged cannabis use can lead to serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder."

Sana's live chat will be manned by 15 para-counsellors - all of them volunteers trained in areas such as psychology and social work. Two full-time counsellors will oversee them.

The chat will be available from Monday to Saturday, between 6pm and midnight.

Users can also e-mail their questions to counsellors beyond the live chat operation hours, and Sana will respond within 24 hours.

After the sessions, counsellors will make referrals to help users in areas such as financial and employment assistance.

Sana aims to kick off the live chat as a pilot for six months before gathering feedback on its effectiveness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Drug addicts to get online counselling via live chat service'. Print Edition | Subscribe