Foreign article on impact of drugs quite inaccurate: MHA

Writer questioned minister's statement on higher mortality rates with drug legalisation

There are inaccuracies in an Asia Times article that challenged several Singapore government statements on the effect and consequences of narcotics, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday.

In a four-page release, the ministry addressed points made in a July 17 opinion piece by human rights analyst Gen Sander that claimed Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam was "spreading disinformation" about the social costs and impact of decriminalising or legalising drugs, as well as the deterrent effect of the death penalty. "Ms Sander's points are quite inaccurate," it said.

Responding to Ms Sander's allegations, the ministry backed up Mr Shanmugam's statement, made earlier this year, that drug mortality rates in Portugal increased after the country decriminalised drugs in 2001.

In her article, Ms Sander, who is from non-governmental organisation Harm Reduction International, said it was "impossible to find a source for this claim".

But the MHA said she was mistaken, as the figures were quoted from a 2011 paper by the department of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, titled The Effect Of Drug Decriminalisation In Portugal On Homicide And Drug Mortality Rates.

Ms Sanders also stated that drug-related deaths and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections in Portugal decreased, following the move to decriminalisation.

Giving context to the situation, the MHA said that in countries with a large number of HIV-positive intravenous drug users, such as Portugal, decriminalisation policies are usually supported by harm reduction programmes, which aim to reduce the negative consequences of drug use.

The ministry reiterated that every country has the sovereign right to decide its own approach to maintain law and order and to tackle its drug situation.

"Singapore respects the right of countries that have abolished capital punishment, and we expect similar respect for our decision to retain it," the ministry statement said.

"Their priority is to minimise costs from HIV and other blood-borne infections, rather than preventing drug abuse because drug abuse is often already pervasive," said the MHA, adding that the intention is to mitigate the situation by ensuring that addicts abuse drugs in a safe environment. It said such programmes can reduce HIV rates, but do little to reduce drug abuse.

Singapore is different, said the ministry, where the drug situation is under control and the country is relatively drug-free.

In her article, Ms Sander challenged the minister's position that decriminalisation of cannabis was responsible for increased criminal activity, where he cited Colorado as an example. The US state voted to legalise the recreational use of cannabis in 2012.

Ms Sander cited two studies published in US-and Dutch-based journals that showed that there was no clear relationship between cannabis regulation and crime.

However, the ministry said there "is clear evidence to the contrary". It added that the link has been established in multiple studies, including one by a US federal task force, which showed an uptick in property or violent crimes in Colorado following the change.

Ms Sander, in her article, had also disputed Mr Shanmugam's position that Singapore imposes the death penalty because evidence has shown that it is an effective deterrent.

The ministry responded by citing Singapore as one of the few countries in the world where the drug menace has been contained.

Singapore's anti-drug strategy includes targeting the demand and supply of drugs and emphasising the rehabilitation of drug abusers. The death penalty is also an important part of this strategy.

The ministry reiterated that every country has the sovereign right to decide its own approach to maintain law and order and to tackle its drug situation.

"Singapore respects the right of countries that have abolished capital punishment, and we expect similar respect for our decision to retain it," the statement said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2019, with the headline 'Foreign article on impact of drugs quite inaccurate: MHA'. Print Edition | Subscribe