Published: 11 August 2023
His Excellency, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Security of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Police-General Vilay Lakhamfong,
Excellencies and Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
1. I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to the Government of the Lao People Democratic Republic for hosting the 8th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters and its Related Meetings, and for your warm hospitality.
2. I am happy that we are finally able to gather here today in-person to discuss and strengthen regional cooperation on drug matters. I am also heartened to hear about the fruitful discussions that took place during the 44th ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Drug Matters in July. The meeting reaffirmed ASEAN’s zero-tolerance approach against drugs and reiterated our shared commitment towards a Drug-Free ASEAN.
Global and Local Drug Situation
3. The global and regional drug situation remains challenging. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the number of drug users worldwide increased by 23% to 296 million in 2021, as compared to 10 years ago. The threat of synthetic drugs is growing at a much faster pace today due to cheaper and faster drug manufacturing. The proliferation of synthetic drugs has led to many drug overdose deaths and countless more lives destroyed.
4. East and Southeast Asia are currently among the world’s largest methamphetamine markets with 151 tonnes of the drug seized in 2022. This indicates that the scale of methamphetamine production has increased significantly. We must step up our law enforcement efforts to stay ahead of these threats.
5. Last year, Singapore authorities arrested about 2,800 drug abusers. Methamphetamine, heroin and cannabis were the most commonly abused drugs.
6. Of concern, young abusers below the age of 30 accounted for 26% of the overall abusers and half of the new drug abusers arrested. The mean age of onset of drug abuse was 15.9 years old.
7. We are worried that our younger generation may be adopting a more casual attitude towards drugs. For new abusers, cannabis is the second-most commonly abused drug in Singapore. They wrongly perceive cannabis to be a less harmful and addictive drug, which is a result of cannabis being glamourised in social media. Spurred by misinformation about cannabis, the youths are driven by curiosity to experiment with the drug.
Singapore’s Anti-Drug Strategy
8. In the wake of these challenges, Singapore continues to adapt and refine our three-pronged harm prevention strategy comprising preventive drug education, enforcement, and rehabilitation.
Preventive Drug Education
9. Preventive Drug Education (PDE) is our important first line of defence. Young people are exposed to misinformation on the Internet and social media that glamorise and promote drug use. To counter this, our PDE campaigns reach out to youths to educate them on the harms of drug abuse. This is done through our schools, as well as online platforms that are popular among the youths including TikTok, Instagram and Facebook.
10. We also work closely with our youths to co-create drug prevention programmes for different age groups. For example, the Central Narcotics Bureau worked with graduates from Nanyang Polytechnic to develop an interactive children’s book targeted at pre-school children to inculcate a drug-free mindset among our children. The e-book serves as a useful resource for parents and educators to teach children to reject offers of unknown substances from strangers and encourage them to seek help from trusted adults.
11. We will continue to review and enhance our PDE approach. This year, we will be setting up an Inter-Ministry Committee on Drug Prevention for Youths to strengthen the whole-of-government response to the drug problem among youths. The committee will look at the effectiveness of different PDE messaging and communication modalities, to determine the optimal approach to get the anti-drug message effectively across to Singaporeans, especially youths.
Robust Law Enforcement
12. The second prong of our anti-drug strategy comprises tough laws and robust enforcement that target drug trafficking syndicates. Last year, authorities seized drugs worth almost $17 million in market value. More than 700 operations were conducted island-wide, with 23 drug syndicates being dismantled.
Rehabilitation and Reintegration
13. The third part of our harm prevention strategy is our evidence-based rehabilitation and reintegration. We help drug abusers to kick their drug habits and support their recovery journey by equipping them with relevant skills training for gainful employment and tailoring support programmes to help them to stay clean and reintegrate into society.
14. This year, we launched the Desistor Network to create an ecosystem of support for ex-offenders to enable them to stay drug and crime-free after their release. The network, led by the Singapore Prison Service in collaboration with like-minded community partners, will bring together aftercare agencies and ex-abusers who have successfully remained drug-free in the community. They will help to co-create a pro-social circle of support for ex-abusers through suitable reintegration and training programmes in the community.
15. Your Excellencies, as we strengthen our respective national strategies against drugs, we must not forget that regional cooperation is critical in the fight against drugs. Singapore is committed to work with ASEAN to keep the region drug-free through active cooperation in joint operations and investigations against drug trafficking syndicates, capacity building and sharing of best practices.
16. We must also work with other like-minded countries beyond our region and who share our views on drugs. The UN Commission for Narcotic Drugs (or CND) meets every year to discuss global drug policies. In recent years, there are countries who have advocated for more liberal drug control policies, such as decriminalisation, to be mainstreamed at CND meetings. These policies run counter to ASEAN’s zero tolerance stance against drugs. Thus, it is timely that ASEAN is thinking of delivering a joint statement at the 67th CND High Level Segment in 2024. I look forward to the deliberation of this issue in agenda item 7 and reaffirming our collective commitment to securing a drug-free ASEAN.
17. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to ASEAN Member States for supporting Singapore’s candidature at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) for the term 2024-2027. We look forward to contributing constructively at the CND and will work together with you to safeguard ASEAN’s common position on drugs at the international fora.
18. Chairman and Excellencies, with the mounting challenges in the global drug situation, it is paramount for ASEAN member states to work closely to safeguard our region and our countries against the scourge of drugs. We must remain committed to support ASEAN’s journey, to maintain our collective zero-tolerance stance against drugs.
19. Thank you, Chairman.