Fewer drug abusers arrested in 2020, but many of them first-time and young offenders

The CNB said the number of abusers arrested last year dropped to 3,014 from 3,526 in 2019.
The CNB said the number of abusers arrested last year dropped to 3,014 from 3,526 in 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - While there were fewer arrests over drug offences last year compared with the year before, a high proportion of them still involved new abusers and offenders younger than 30 years of age.

These concerning trends were singled out by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in its annual report on Wednesday (Feb 3).

The CNB said the number of abusers arrested last year dropped to 3,014 from 3,526 in 2019.

About 38 per cent of those arrested last year were new abusers - though new abuser arrests fell to 1,143 from 1,460 in 2019 - with about three in five of them also being under 30 years old.

Drug abusers under 30 - most of them between 20 and 29 - also accounted for 41 per cent of all drug abusers arrested in 2020.

There was also a 14 per cent increase in drug users aged 60 and above, said the CNB.

It added that the decrease in drug arrests made was likely due to reduced movement of travellers across Singapore's borders, which impacted both drug supply and demand.

But the agency said the country is vulnerable to developments in the regional drug situation.

The CNB noted that Singapore is surrounded by major markets for illicit drugs in East Asia, South Asia and Oceania. It can also be reached and influenced by transnational organised criminal groups.

"On the international front, the push for more liberal drug policies, driven by commercial interests, has seen increasing normalisation of drug use in mass and social media," the agency said.

"This can lead to the misperception that drugs are not that harmful, despite scientific evidence showing otherwise."

Methamphetamine, heroin and new psychoactive substances (NPS) were the three most commonly abused drugs last year.

Methamphetamine users made up 69 per cent of those arrested, while 17 per cent of drug offenders took heroin. Nine per cent of abusers used NPS.

About four in five of new drug abusers arrested also took methamphetamine, with NPS continuing to be the second-most commonly abused drug among new users.

The total street value of drugs seized by the CNB last year was estimated at around $11.6 million, an increase from $6.49 million in 2019.

Last year, the CNB partnered the Singapore Police Force and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority in seven islandwide operations targeting drug traffickers and abusers, as well as 506 operations at the country's checkpoints to intercept attempts to smuggle drugs into the country.

The agency also carried out major operations that crippled 24 drug syndicates.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the CNB has continued with its preventive drug education efforts, which involves educating young people on the dangers of drug dependence.

Initiatives include social media campaigns and online activities, which were launched in lieu of physical activities. Anti-drug abuse talks were also hosted online and live-streaming of skits offered to schools.

CNB director Ng Ser Song said Singapore's harm-prevention approach against drug abuse has helped to keep the local drug situation under control.

"This is why our approach continues to receive strong public support, with almost nine in 10 Singaporeans agreeing that our drug laws are effective," he said.

"CNB, working closely with the community, will keep up our efforts to prevent drug abuse, and to keep Singapore drug-free for future generations."

Preventive drug education efforts continue

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) continued its preventive drug education outreach and engagement efforts amid the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

Among other things, it collaborated with Nanyang Polytechnic graduates to produce an activity book for children aged five to eight, as well as a comic book for youths aged 13 to 16.

The books, which are available for loan from public and school libraries or for download from the CNB website, aim to educate readers on drug issues.

Last June, various structures and buildings - such as the Science Centre Singapore - were lit up in green and white, the symbolic colours of the anti-drug ribbon.

Anti-drug ribbon-folding exercises were also conducted in schools. 

These were part of last year’s anti-drug campaign, which was jointly organised by the CNB and the National Council Against Drug Abuse. 

The CNB also continued to offer students customised programmes to learn more about the dangers and consequences of drug abuse.

These involved activities such as a sharing session by an ex-abuser and an augmented reality experience.

Other initiatives by the agency included social media campaigns and a film project with students from the Nanyang Technological University.