SINGAPORE - A newly released study that puts the total cost of drug crimes in Singapore in 2015 at $1.23 billion did not take into account other intangible costs to society, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling on Monday (Feb 3).
"Lost lives, pain and suffering and untold misery to families" are very significant intangible costs of drug abuse, she added, in her reply to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) in Parliament.
The figure in the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) study, which was commissioned by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in 2016, is "almost certainly an underestimation", she said.
One reason is that it does not include costs like the number of work days lost for victims of drug crimes because "it has not been quantified", she added.
The NTU study took into account the amount spent by different agencies in combating and preventing drug crimes, and the losses incurred by the drug abuser in consuming drugs, among other factors.
"So we have now undertaken this study, we hope to add to the literature, so that more are aware about what are the drug-involved crimes, as well as drug-attributable crimes and what the costs to society are.
"And in time, the researchers are actually preparing for this paper for publication in international journals," said Ms Sun, who is also Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development.
She also said the CNB has yet to detect any trend of drug syndicates deliberately targeting young persons in Singapore, like selling them drugs or recruiting them into the trade.
"Nevertheless, we take this risk very seriously. We have strengthened our legislative framework and enhanced our enforcement powers to better protect young persons from being exploited and becoming victims of drugs," she said.
Citing the Misuse of Drugs Act, she said it was amended last year to give greater protection to children below age 16 years and young persons, from the harms of drugs
"We will continue to tighten our legislation as needed," she added.
Last year, the CNB, with other Home Team agencies, carried almost 1,500 drug operations across Singapore, and the estimated market value of the drugs seized was about $6.3 billion, Ms Sun said.
Mr de Souza asked what is being done, as statistics show the highest number of new drug abusers are below age 35, "and in light of the growing calls, not in Singapore but around the world, to legalise recreational drug use".
Acknowledging the louder global call for drug legalisation is a cause for concern, she said preventive drug education is the first line of defence in drug control.
Social media is a key platform in youth outreach, and "CNB has been developing content messages of strong deterrence, as well as evidence-based narratives on Singapore's drug policies, through social media accounts", she said.
"At the end of the day, what we're going to do is going to be guided by research. At the same time, we are also pushing out our education outreach efforts to make sure that high risk youths and persons of certain segments (receive) the anti-drug message," said Ms Sun.