Young people continue to make up majority of first-time drug abusers; 3 in 5 below 30 years old

CNB said that people under the age of 30 formed 60 per cent of first-time drug offenders arrested in 2021. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - Young people continue to make up the bulk of first-time drug abusers, with three in five offenders below the age of 30.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), in releasing its annual statistics on Thursday (Feb 10), said that people in that age group formed 60 per cent of first-time drug offenders (561 offenders) arrested and 33 per cent (912 offenders) of all drug abusers caught.

It is a slight decline from 2020's figures, where offenders below the age of 30 made up 62 per cent of all first-time abusers and 41 per cent of all drug abusers arrested.

CNB also said that it made fewer arrests last year, which it attributed to restricted social interactions arising from Covid-19 measures.

On Thursday, the bureau said it caught a total of 2,724 drug abusers in 2021, down from 3,056 in 2020 and 3,526 in 2019.

New drug abusers made up about a third of all drug offenders last year.

Methamphetamine, or Ice as it is commonly called, continues to be the most commonly abused drug in Singapore since 2015, said CNB.

The amount of methamphetamine seized by the bureau increased slightly from 46.81kg in 2020 to 48.11kg last year. 

The bureau last year seized 3,150 tablets of new psychoactive substances (NPS), more than 10 times the 305 tablets seized in 2020.

NPS contain ingredients that mimic the effect of controlled drugs and include bath salts, which is marketed by some online as a legal substance.

CNB had in May last year listed 13 NPS as Class A controlled drugs, in a group that includes heroin, cannabis and methamphetamine.

Figures last year also showed that the amount of cannabis seized had also climbed, from 43.1kg in 2020 to 105.18kg last year. All of the cannabis seized was in the form of plant matter.

CNB said it was maintaining its zero tolerance towards drugs despite challenges on the international and regional fronts. 

“On the international front, there is continued push for more liberal drug control policies by various parties with vested interests. 

“In particular, the cannabis legalisation movement has led to a substantial disconnect between real risks and public perception,” it said. 

The bureau cited the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime World Drug Report 2021, which found that cannabis products in some parts of the world have almost quadrupled in potency.

“Yet the percentage of adolescents who perceive cannabis as harmful has dropped by as much as 40 per cent despite the evidence linking regular use to health problems, particularly in young people, and despite the correlation between potency and harm,” said CNB.

On the regional front, Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration had last month proposed the removal of marijuana from a list of controlled drugs. Observers noted that the move would decriminalise marijuana there, including for recreational use. 

Thailand was the first country in South-east Asia to legalise medical cannabis and its use in food and cosmetics.

CNB director Ng Ser Song said: “Amidst a challenging global and regional drug situation, Singapore remains steadfast in adopting a comprehensive drug control strategy that tackles both drug supply and demand.”

He added: “We take a zero-tolerance stand against drugs because it is the best approach for Singapore. Drug abuse exacts a heavy price on abusers, their family and, ultimately, society.”

To combat increasingly liberal attitudes towards drug use among young people in Singapore, CNB organises talks at primary and secondary schools to warn students about the dangers of drugs.

The bureau also partners students from institutes of higher learning to co-create projects to encourage young people to become anti-drug advocates.

CNB rolled out several programmes and initiatives last year under its preventive drug education. 

One of these was the DrugFreeSG Video Competition where young people entered short videos expressing their understanding of the harms of drugs. 

The competition attracted 64 entries from 215 participants, and netizens voted for their favourite videos.

The bureau said: “Through effective public education, we aim to stem drug abuse upstream before it causes more social problems and misery to drug abusers and their families.”

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