Protect the young, enhance legislative measures, strengthen collaboration in Asean response to drug problem: DPM Teo

Asean ministers at the fifth Asean Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters.
Asean ministers at the fifth Asean Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters.ST PHOTO: SEOW BEI YI

SINGAPORE - Asean can focus its response to the regional drug situation by enhancing "upstream efforts" to protect the young, heightening legislative measures and strengthening collaboration between countries, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday (Oct 20).

DPM Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, was giving his opening address for the fifth Asean Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters at the Grand Copthrone Waterfront Hotel. Held over two days, the meeting brings Asean leaders together to shape its united response to the regional drug problem.

This meeting will also mark the adoption of a new Asean 10-year work plan on securing communities against illicit drugs, which lays out its approach to achieving a drug-free community.

Upstream efforts will educate youth to say no to drugs, said DPM Teo in his speech. Countries can exchange information on best practices within Asean, he added, citing a camp in Malaysia to educate at-risk youths, and Singapore's toolkits for educators and counsellors.

He said that countries must continue "firm and vigorous enforcement" to reduce the drug supply, with legislative measures updated to support agencies.

For example, Asean countries are at different stages in legislating measures against new psychoactive substances, he said.

"Robust legislation on asset forfeiture helps us counter the lure of profits from drug trafficking, and disrupt the operations of international drug syndicates."

Asean has to strengthen collaboration within and beyond the community as well, noted DPM Teo.

Such work at borders and checkpoints to disrupt drug trade has seen some success, he added, referring to initiatives such as the Asean Airport Interdiction Taskforce and Asean Seaport Interdiction Taskforce that help to coordinate efforts.

"Our agencies can build on the momentum to further cooperate in gathering intelligence and conducting joint operations," he added.

Seeing through the implementation of the activities in the new Asean work plan will support its larger vision of "forging ahead together", he added. He reiterated that the region continues to face a challenging situation worsened by the use of synthetic drugs and opiates.

There are over three million heroin users and five million methamphetamine users in East and South-east Asia, according to estimates by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

A survey of over 100,000 respondents from Europe, Oceania and North and South America also found that one in 10 drug users last year purchased drugs on the Internet at least once, double from those surveyed in 2013.

"To achieve a drug-free Asean and prevent harm from drugs, we must tackle the problem at all levels," said DPM Teo.

"We must prevent the drug scourge from taking a further toll on our communities."

At the meeting on Thursday, Asean ministers launched a green and white anti-drug abuse ribbon, which will be used in preventive education campaigns in member states.