Published: 01 February 2021
Ms Joan Pereira: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs with new psychoactive substances on the rise and the possibility of them being masked and labelled as medicine, what measures are being taken to ensure that they are not easily bought online.
1. New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are proliferating at an unprecedented rate globally, due to the ease of modifying the chemical structures of substances to create new compounds with psychoactive effects. At least 1,000 different types of NPS have been detected worldwide as at August 2020, up from 166 at end-2009.
2. Since 2010, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has been proactively listing NPS as controlled drugs to the First Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA). In 2013, amendments were made to the MDA to better address NPS challenges. The temporary listing of NPS in the Fifth Schedule to the MDA was provided for, which allows the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) to seize these NPS to prevent their proliferation, while consultation with stakeholders is being carried out to determine if there are any legitimate uses for these substances. If there are none, these NPS will be listed as a controlled drug to the First Schedule to the MDA subsequently. The MDA currently has 12 generic groups and 67 individually listed NPS in the First Schedule, which covers a significant proportion of the NPS detected overseas.
3. The abuse of NPS is on the rise. NPS has become the third most abused drug in Singapore since 2018. One key challenge in tackling the NPS problem is that traffickers and abusers switch very quickly to new forms of NPS that have yet to be listed as controlled drugs in the MDA, and thus we may not have the legal powers to prosecute such cases. MHA will be amending the MDA later this year, to better deal with the NPS problem.
4. Given the increased internet penetration among the general population and the abundance of mobile applications that allow for encrypted communications, CNB has noted an increasing trend of illicit online drug transactions. This challenge is faced by law enforcement agencies worldwide.
5. CNB has been monitoring the developments on illicit online drug sales closely, including those of NPS.
6. CNB has also stepped up enforcement efforts. CNB works closely with partners such as the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and courier companies. These efforts have resulted in many successful interceptions of drugs, including NPS, and drug-related paraphernalia. In 2020, CNB arrested 287 persons for buying drugs and drug-related paraphernalia online.
7. At the same time, it is crucial that we raise public awareness about the dangers of NPS. For instance, in March 2020, CNB worked with Channel News Asia to release a podcast about the harms of NPS and cautioning against buying drugs online. In December 2020, CNB launched a ‘Mythbusters’ series to share about the harms of NPS on its Facebook and Instagram pages. This series will continue in Q1 2021.
8. CNB will continue to monitor developments closely and keep up its enforcement and public education efforts.