SINGAPORE - About 40 per cent of drug abusers arrested in Singapore last year were first-time offenders, and nearly two-thirds of these were under the age of 30.
The numbers were singled out as an area of concern by Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) director Ng Ser Song as the agency released its annual report on Monday (Feb 25).
The CNB said it arrested 3,438 drug abusers last year, an 11 per cent increase from 3,091 in 2017. Those between the ages of 20 to 29 continued to form the largest portion of abusers, with 1,010 of those arrested making up this group.
The number of repeat offenders also increased by 12 per cent to 2,072 last year. They numbered 1,842 in 2017.
The number of first-time drug abusers nabbed rose to 1,366, a 9 per cent increase from 1,249 the year before. Sixty-four per cent of them were under 30 years old.
The number of those arrested increased across all ethnic groups, with the majority, or 1,760, of them being Malays.
The Chinese followed, with 974 arrested last year.
Indian abusers, along with those from the "others" category, saw the biggest jump in the rate of arrests, with the number surging by 31 per cent for both groups.
Malays also made up the biggest group among new abusers arrested, with 673 arrested.
The CNB has been running the "Dadah itu Haram" ("Drugs are Forbidden") campaign since April 2017, to tackle the issue of an over-representation of Malays among drug abusers.
A seven-person "Dadah itu Haram" secretariat has been working with Malay-Muslim organisations such as the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and Mendaki to tackle the issue in the community.
Mr Ng said that the CNB has continued with its preventive drug education efforts last year, which he called the "first line of defence against demand for drugs".
The agency has worked with various groups in the community to boost awareness of the harm from drugs and counter misinformation about drugs, through social media campaigns and outreach programmes.
"On the government's part, we continuously review our approach to ensure that it keeps pace with the evolving drug landscape," he said.
He cited the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), which was passed in Parliament last month.
The changes criminalise acts which facilitate or promote drug use, and acts of endangerment, such as exposing a child to drugs or drug paraphernalia, or permitting a young person to abuse drugs.
Offenders who only abuse drugs, without committing other offences, will also be given a chance at rehabilitation, to help them break the cycle of addiction and reintegrate into society.