Doctors don't back push to legalise drugs: Shanmugam

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam touring the women's block of Selarang Halfway House yesterday. The halfway house, Singapore's first such institution to be run by the Government, aims to improve the rehabilitation and reintegration of offen
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam touring the women's block of Selarang Halfway House yesterday. The halfway house, Singapore's first such institution to be run by the Government, aims to improve the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

He says it is the drug companies which are doing so abroad; S'pore's approach is to help abusers break habit

Singapore hospitals have used drugs like heroin when "absolutely necessary" for medical purposes, but under "controlled conditions", which the Government has no issues with.

But this practice cannot be used to argue generally for the free availability of drugs, which is a debate taking place around the world, in part due to lobbying by pharmaceutical and drug companies, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

The minister pointed out the growing talk around the world about legalising drugs, and how such debates have also started in the region, "unfortunately".

Last month, Thailand approved legislation to allow the use of medical cannabis, which is expected to take effect some time this year. Malaysia also reportedly started talks on the legalisation of medical cannabis late last year.

Speaking at the Selarang Halfway House yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said that Singapore is "very lucky" to be in an environment where the authorities are looking at "what really matters for people", which is to help abusers break the drug habit.

"Luckily, we are in a position to do that, and I think this is something that we can take great professional pride in," he said.

JUSTIFICATION LACKING

I have not come across a single respectable medical association in the world which said the free use of drugs is important for medical purposes.

HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM

Selarang Halfway House, Singapore's first such institution to be run by the Government, aims to improve the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.

He highlighted how some areas in the United States have legalised drugs such as cannabis because pharmaceutical and drug companies have changed the debate to focus on how drugs are important for medical purposes.

"They were very smart. A lot of money went into advertisements - on the importance of drugs for medical purposes," said Mr Shanmugam.

"I have not come across a single respectable medical association in the world which said the free use of drugs is important for medical purposes."

He added that he had said before at international conferences that if the argument were sound, he would like to hear it from doctors and medical associations, and not from pharmaceutical companies or public relations companies.

 
 

Mr Shanmugam said a reason for the changing debate is the nature of the US political system, with pharmaceutical firms telling state governments that they will get a lot more tax revenue.

"Many of the American states have gone down this route," he said.

Now, these US state governments are finding that the amount they are spending for medical costs is three to four times the tax revenues they are getting from drugs, added the minister.

"That does not include the loss in productivity and increased crime rate which has taken place," said Mr Shanmugam.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2019, with the headline 'Doctors don't back push to legalise drugs: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe