On Assignment
MHA COS 2018: Maintaining Our Tough Stance on Drugs
How we have enhanced preventive drug education and outreach to better engage youths.

MHA COS2018 - CNB 01
GRAPHIC: Home Team News

During the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) Committee of Supply (COS) Debate, Minister K Shanmugam, Second Minister Josephine Teo and Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin shared the Home Team’s plans to deal with future challenges in keeping our home safe and secure, including how to keep Singapore drug-free. 

Singapore is one of the few countries where the drug situation is under control. Our approach to drugs has been effective, and works for us. However, according to the National Council Against Drug Abuse Youth Perception Survey 2015/2016, youths now have a more liberal attitude towards drugs. This means more upstream measures are needed to address misperceptions about the danger posed by drugs.  

In Part 1 of our feature on MHA’s COS Debate, two officers from the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) share how they’re bringing the preventive drug education message to youths.

MHA COS2018 - CNB 02
Safeguarding our future: For Low Wan Er, preventive drug education is the first line of defence against drug abuse, and every youth that she successfully reaches out to means a better future for an entire generation. PHOTO: Mike Tan

A Passion for Reaching Out to Youths

An avid volunteer in her student days with a passion for working with youths at risk, Low Wan Er decided to join the Home Team as a Home Affairs Senior Executive. “I’ve always felt strongly about the anti-drug cause, and this was further cemented in my first posting with the Singapore Prison Service, where I witnessed the shattering consequences of drug abuse on abusers and their families,” she said. “I wanted to actively contribute to our anti-drug efforts, and that’s why I decided to join the CNB.”

 

Take us through a typical day for you at work.

I’m in charge of preventive drug education projects, in particular, with Institutes of Higher Learning and the National Service agencies. I meet regularly with our partners and stakeholders on how we can establish a strong anti-drug presence in their institutions and explore co-creation opportunities to promote anti-drug advocacy among their networks.

Occasionally, I’ll share with student groups about preventive drug education, through personal stories. Many youths express worrying sentiments such as how they’d try taking drugs if they weren’t illegal, or that it’s okay to try drugs for a new experience. We also find that more youths have misperceptions about cannabis, with many perceiving it to be less harmful or addictive.

These are worrying trends, and if we don’t proactively reach out to youths to prevent them from falling into drug abuse, they could very well form the next generation of abusers.

MHA COS2018 - CNB 03
Talking ‘bout my generation: Wan Er and her colleagues are constantly seeking new ways to better engage and connect with youths. PHOTOS: CNB
 
Share some of the ways that you’re reaching out to youths.

 

We’re constantly seeking new ways to better engage and connect with youths, be it on social media or leveraging on new technologies such as Virtual Reality.

Every year, to commemorate the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in June, we organise the Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign. In 2017, music and dance were the anchor activities of our campaign, and a concert was held for 2,000 participants. Popular local artistes such as Taufik Batisah, the Sam Willows, Inch Chua, the Lion City Boy and Scarlet Avenue performed and encouraged youths to embrace a drug-free lifestyle. The event also included a mentorship programme to emphasise the importance of peer influence and guidance.

This year, we’ll be celebrating the 20th anniversary of DanceWorks, an anti-drug dance competition that’s open to students and youths. Stay tuned for more info!

 

What do you love about your work?

Popular media often depicts drug abuse as a lifestyle choice, but in reality, drug abuse isn’t a victimless crime. Drugs have devastating consequences for individuals, families and society as a whole. That’s why garnering public support for Singapore’s anti-drug strategies is something that resonates strongly with me.

I love interacting with youths, and being a Home Team officer who engages with youths is even more fulfilling, because I know that what I do contributes to keeping Singapore drug-free for our children.

MHA COS2018 - CNB 04
Ground-up effort: An investigator by vocation, Taufiq is glad to see how volunteers have stepped forward to support the Dadah Itu Haram campaign. PHOTO: Mike Tan
 

Sharing the Anti-drug Message at Our Community Touchpoints

To share the anti-drug message with youths, you have to go where they are, to the places and community touchpoints that they call their own –so says Taufiq Abdul Azim Bin Mohamed Azmai, 28. A Specialist Investigator with the CNB who loves cracking cases, Taufiq also works to support ground-up anti-drug efforts within the Malay community.

 

Tell us about the Dadah Itu Haram (Drugs are Forbidden) campaign.

This is a community-based campaign that was launched in in April 2017 at Sultan Mosque. It’s based on the principle that prevention is better than cure, and goes right to the touchpoints of the community.

So far, there have been two major initiatives, a Supper Night campaign and one involving local barbershops. The Supper Night campaign involved volunteers who visited eateries popular with youths late at night, to distribute anti-drug materials and share the anti-drug message. More than 70 volunteers from motorcycle clubs as well as students from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Malay Language Society and NUS Law were involved in the event. The Supper Night campaign has also received good support from restaurants and eateries.

Another initiative that we’re supporting involves local barbershops. We’ve been able to tap on a network of about 50 barbershops across Singapore. When you visit a barbershop, you’ll typically be there for 15 minutes. So the barber starts a conversation with you, and shares the anti-drug message, in a personal way.

MHA COS2018 - CNB 05
Community touchpoints: Volunteers sharing the anti-drug message at eateries and barbershops. PHOTOS: Top left: NUS #PARADIGMA FB; top centre: Amrin Amin FB; all others: Dadah Itu Haram FB


Why did these different groups step forward to play their part in preventive drug education?

They believe that drugs are a menace to society, and realise that preventive drug education can no longer be something that the Government does by itself. The public must also step up and say, “We don’t want drugs in our community; we want to take a stand.”

They know drugs have a cost. When I was doing enforcement work, I remember responding to a call from a mother who couldn’t handle her drug-abuser son anymore. It was a shock going to her home, seeing how clean it was, and then entering the son’s room and seeing how dirty it was. It was like a different world. That’s the most heart-breaking part, when you see how drugs destroy lives.

 

What’s next for the Dadah Itu Haram campaign?

The community support is growing, and many mosques have expressed an interest in spreading the anti-drug message. We’ve also started to see more volunteers approach us and say they want to do more to help with preventive drug education.

We hope that more people can come forward; we need to take ownership of this issue. Motorcycle riders, students, barbers and many other volunteers have done so. Everyone has the potential to contribute, regardless of background.

 

More on Committee of Supply (COS) 2018

Read the speech by Minister K Shanmugam.

Read the speech by Second Minister Josephine Teo.

Read the speech by Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin.

Visit the COS 2018 webpage.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 06 March 2018
Back to top