New Asean work plan on securing community against illicit drugs to be discussed at meeting

SINGAPORE - Asean leaders will discuss a new work plan on securing the community against illicit drugs on Thursday (Oct 20), said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (Oct 19).

This plan will set out countries' collective actions for the next decade, covering areas such as prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, enforcement and cooperation between member states.

It is expected to be reviewed in 2020 and 2024 to check if it is on track, said Mr Shanmugam, who added: "We have to continuously refine our approach."

He was speaking at a welcome dinner for the fifth Asean Ministeral Meeting on Drug Matters at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel. The meeting brings Asean leaders together to discuss and shape its united response to the regional drug problem.

The South-east Asian region is "especially vulnerable", he said, as it has the Golden Triangle, formed by highlands at the confluence of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. This is one of the world's top producers of drugs, presenting "very complex challenges not only in terms of drug enforcement but also in terms of the economic situation", the poverty, crime and conflict.

Mr Shanmugam brought up trends in the drug situation as well, such as the abuse of "more and newer" psychoactive substances. An estimated 100 new psychoactive substances are reported every year, he said, adding that "as soon as we put them into our legislation and go after these drugs, something new comes up which technically is not an offence".

Drug abuse by young people, many of whom are moving towards synthetic drugs, is also a serious problem, he added. Younger people tend to think that they are in control and can try the drugs and kick the habit, although this leads to addiction and a long road to recovery.

Statistics from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) show that more people under 30 are getting hooked on drugs. They made up the bulk of the 729 new drug abusers it arrested in the first half of the year.

With Asean leaders committing to achieve a drug-free Asean community by 2015 four years ago, said Mr Shanmugam, this shows the kind of society that the region wants.

He added that while there have been calls to abandon the vision of having "drug-free" societies in favour of "drug-tolerant" ones, the Asean position is to maintain a zero-tolerance approach towards these substances.

He then highlighted the "significant progress" made over the years such as intensifying anti-drug trafficking operations, successfully disrupting syndicates, and improving the coordination and information flow between drug enforcement agencies.

He urged member states to "maintain our resolve in Asean and do what we know is the best for our people".