Positive peer 'influencers' to spread anti-drug message

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) is ramping up its social media presence and looking to positive "influencers" to help spread its anti-drug message.

Amid the growing challenge of keeping Singapore drug-free, the Home Affairs Ministry announced a comprehensive strategy to engage youth yesterday, with prevention as its first line of defence.

Yesterday, Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) asked how young Singaporeans could be steered away from picking up the drug habit at an early age in the face of peer pressure.

Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin responded by revealing a new initiative to establish positive "influencers" in peer circles.

Young people from the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities have already signed up for this pilot of the Anti-Drug Advocate Programme, he said.

“A key part of the battle is won if we can keep people away from drugs,” said Mr Amrin Amin.

Youth who have signed up will learn about Singapore's drug policies and the harmful effects of substances, he added.

"They will visit halfway houses and drug rehabilitation centres, hearing first-hand accounts from ex-abusers on how hard it is to kick the drug habit," he said. "These youth will see what is really at stake if they try drugs."

Mr Amrin said the aim is to encourage youth to start initiatives that spread the anti-drug message among their friends.

"Prevention is the first line of defence," he added. "A key part of the battle is won if we can keep people away from drugs."

CNB statistics showed that close to two-thirds of new drug abusers arrested last year were below the age of 30.

There were also more cases of students abusing drugs, said Mr Amrin, replying to a question from Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) about the drug situation here.

Yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam reiterated the need to safeguard Singapore's tough stance against drugs.

"The challenge of keeping Singapore drug-free is increasing," he said.

There are growing threats from the region, with South-east Asia being a major market and producer of illicit drugs. There is also a growing number of new drug abusers.

A survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse last year found that young people below 30 were more open-minded towards drugs, compared with the figure in 2013, Mr Shanmugam said.

This problem is compounded by the rise of drugs available online, with black market sites allowing users to buy them anonymously.

While many think that only young people from low-income households are vulnerable, Mr Shanmugam said, a 2014 study found that most young cannabis abusers came from middle or high socio-economic backgrounds, and often did well in school.

He also said "there is increasing international pressure to adopt a softer, harm-reduction, approach".

But suggestions that such pressure will lead Singapore to deviate from its policies - such as the death penalty - are "delusional", he added.

"We do what is right for Singapore. A penalty will be in the books if we believe it to be right. It will be removed if we believe that removal is the right thing to do, and not because of any international pressure."

He added: "We have to remain steadfast in our resolve to keep Singapore drug-free."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Positive peer 'influencers' to spread anti-drug message'. Print Edition | Subscribe