SINGAPORE - Nights carefully planned through quickly deleted chats on the messaging app Telegram and hosted in hotel rooms with close circles of friends, or spontaneous meetings at people’s homes, often in private estates. These were the places where underground drug activities took place, a former user told The Sunday Times.
Adam (not his real name), who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “People think drugs are very hard to get in Singapore, but actually before the pandemic they were everywhere, and even now there are people selling them.”
The parties were often organised by children of wealthy families, including expatriates. They are young and loaded – slang for rich and also for being under the influence of drugs.
There would be alcohol and music at the events, while some would retreat to a corner to use drugs.
Most people at the parties Adam attended were under 30.
He went through periods where he would be at one every weekend, with some hosted in expensive hotels and condominiums and others at Housing Board flats.
Some of these parties were organised entirely around drugs, where all partygoers would be partaking; others involved alcohol and other activities with just a few people taking drugs.
At one such party in 2019 in Fajar Road, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) arrested seven teenagers – aged between 13 and 18.
Some of these drug parties have ended in tragedy.
In 2018, a 19-year-old medical student from the National University of Singapore died after taking 25B-NBOMe, a new psychoactive substance that is a modified version of lysergic acid diethylamide, more commonly known as LSD or acid.
He had attended a “trip” party, a term used to describe getting high. A polytechnic student who organised the illicit gathering was later charged.
The drugs are not cheap. During the pandemic, the price of MDMA, a psychoactive drug commonly known as Ecstasy or Molly, went up to $80 a pill from $50 a pill.
Other drugs such as ketamine went up to $130 to $200 a gram, from $80 to $100 a gram.
Adam said he rarely met drug dealers himself, but he was always in contact with people who knew them.
Encrypted messaging apps are a popular platform.
Checks by ST last year showed that on 20 Telegram chat groups selling drugs and drug paraphernalia, most had about 300 to 500 members while a few had more than 2,400 members.
After payment is made, sellers would leave the drugs with runners or at drop-off points.
Between Jan 2019 and Sept 17 last year, the Central Narcotics Bureau arrested 77 traffickers linked to Telegram transactions.
Adam, now 23 and doing his national service, said he would often gather with groups of close friends – a collection of both Singaporeans and expats and children of expats – to use substances like cannabis and MDMA.
The phenomenon of drug use among Singapore’s international community and some wealthy people here has surfaced in the news from time to time.
In 2019, the scion of a rich business family in Singapore pleaded guilty to cannabis possession and consumption. He was sentenced to a jail term of two years and two months. He started smoking marijuana at 21, while studying overseas, and continued the habit on his return to Singapore.
Adam started at an even younger age. He was 14 when he first smoked marijuana. A group of friends from secondary school had offered it to him at the playground of a condominium where one of them lived.
He said he started doing drugs to deal with anxiety and attention deficit hyperactive disorder and later switched to harder drugs.
“As cliched as it sounds, every drug I’ve done later was for the thrill of finding the next high. I was 15 when I tried acid, 18 when I started using benzos, 20 when I did my first line of cocaine, ketamine and MDMA.”
Benzos is short for benzodiazepines, a class of psychoactive drugs used to treat depression or anxiety, which he has been diagnosed with.
Adam said his parents – his father works in drug rehabilitation – were suspicious. But he continued to do relatively well in school and earned himself a diploma. So they trusted him.
He said he was influenced by what he watched and read. After reading The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by American writer Stephen Chbosky, Adam wanted to be Bob.
Bob was a stereotypical stoner, a character in the American coming-of-age book where several teenage characters use drugs such as marijuana and LSD.
“I did acid for the first time because I was stupid, didn’t know better and thought I was the main character in Skins.”
Skins is a British TV show that also explores teenage drug use.
But escapism from emotional trauma was also at the root of his addiction.
When he was a child, he was sexually assaulted by his sister, who is now in jail for a separate offence involving drug trafficking.
He said the drugs were not just recreational but also a coping mechanism for pain which he felt therapy could not solve, especially during a period of about 10 months beginning in March 2020.
He said: “(During) my worst spiral and drug bender, Molly was my drug of choice.”
He would pop pills every weekend and also tried to end his life several times.
While his first contact with drugs was through his friends, it was also his social group that got him out of hard drugs, he said.
He said: “My friends saw how much I was spiralling and we all decided to stay sober together and cut ourselves off from people who dealt (drugs).”
Adam added that while he agrees with Singapore’s hard stance against drugs, he is concerned that it may drive people to consume whatever they can get their hands on.
He said: “I think drugs are bad and do a lot of harm to families and the community. But it’s not going to stop the young from trying drugs at a party or a rave.”