Singapore 'very lucky' authorities helping abusers break drug habit instead of legalising drugs: Shanmugam

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam touring the women's block of the newly open Selarang Halfway House, which provides aftercare support for former offenders on the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam touring the women's block of the newly open Selarang Halfway House, which provides aftercare support for former offenders on the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaking at the opening of the Selarang Halfway House on Jan 11, 2019.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaking at the opening of the Selarang Halfway House on Jan 11, 2019.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Hospitals here have used drugs like heroin when "absolutely necessary" for medical purposes but under "controlled conditions", which the Singapore Government has no issues with.

But this practice cannot be used to argue generally for the free availability of drugs, which is a debate taking place around the world in part due to lobbying by pharmaceutical and drug companies, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

He pointed out the growing talk around the world about legalising drugs, and how such debates have also started in the region "unfortunately".

Last month, Thailand approved legislation to allow the use of medical cannabis, which is expected to take effect some time this year. Malaysia has also reportedly started talks on the legalisation of medical cannabis since late last year.

Speaking at the Selarang Halfway House on Friday (Jan 11), Mr Shanmugam said Singapore is "very lucky" to be in an environment where the Home Team and other agencies are looking at "what really matters for people", which is to help abusers break the drug habit.

"Luckily we are in a position to do that, and I think this is something that we can take great professional pride in," he said.

Mr Shanmugam highlighted how some states in the United States have legalised drugs like cannabis because pharmaceutical and drug companies have changed the debate to focus on how drugs are important for medical purposes.

 

"They were very smart. A lot of money went into advertisements - on the importance of drugs for medical purposes," said Mr Shanmugam.

"I have not come across a single respectable medical association in the world which said the free use of drugs is important for medical purposes," he said.

He added that he has said before at international conferences that if the argument was sound, he would like to hear it from doctors and medical associations and not from pharmaceutical companies nor from public relations companies.

Mr Shanmugam said a reason for the changing debate is the nature of the political system in the US, with pharmaceutical firms telling state governments that they will get a lot more tax revenue.

"Many of the American states have gone down this route," he said.

Now these US state governments are finding that the amount they are spending on medical costs is three to four times the tax revenues they are getting from drugs, added the minister.

"That does not include the loss in productivity and increased crime rate which has taken place," said Mr Shanmugam.