Published: 26 May 2023
Mr Rogers Kasirye, Vice President of the World Federation Against Drugs,
Mr Augusto Nogueira, President of the International Federation of Non-Governmental Organisations for the Prevention of Drug and Substance Abuse,
Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State for Home Affairs and for National Development,
Dr Chew Tuan Chiong, Vice Chairman of the National Council Against Drug Abuse,
Mr Kaka Singh, Vice President of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good morning to all of you. And to our guests from overseas, an especially warm welcome to Singapore.
2. Thank you for inviting me back to this year’s Asia Pacific Forum Against Drugs, or APFAD, as it is known in the community. The last time that APFAD was held was in 2019, before the pandemic.
3. APFAD was launched in 2015 by the Singapore National Council Against Drug Abuse, or NCADA. This year, amongst the many partners, NCADA has teamed up with the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, or SANA, to organise this fourth edition of APFAD. SANA, for those who are less familiar, is a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) that educates our public on the dangers of drug use, and supports drug abusers and their families in their recovery process.
4. The drug problem is a complex one, and combatting it requires a multi-faceted approach:
(a) Preventive drug education to help the public cut through the misinformation and to be aware of the harms of drug abuse, is one aspect;
(b) Tough laws and enforcement against the drug traffickers who profit from the harms that they do to our communities, that is another; and also, very importantly,
(c) Evidence-based programmes to rehabilitate drug abusers and reintegrate them into society – that is our goal.
5. Governments cannot do this alone. Governments and NGOs need to work together in order to achieve, to realise, a vision of a drug-free society.
6. I understand that at the panel discussions later, participants will be exploring ways in which the community can work together to curb the worsening drug problem. I hope that the discussions can draw out ideas and perspectives that would benefit all of us fighting the scourge of drugs.
Worsening Drug Situation
7. Such collaboration amongst NGOs and governments, is becoming even more critical in the face of a worsening global drug situation.
8. According to the World Drug Report 2022:
(a) The number of deaths associated with drug abuse worldwide, increased by 17.5%, this was between the years 2009 and 2019. The World Health Organisation estimated that in 2019, there were about half a million deaths attributable to drug use.
(b) Illicit drug production, and drug use among young people, has reached record levels. Young people today report higher levels of drug use than past generations. It is probably a combination of availability and ability to afford.
9. The worsening drug situation has exacerbated the serious public health problems caused by drug abuse.
(a) Drug-overdose deaths in the US reached over 100,000 in 2021. Some estimates show that the opioid epidemic has reduced US males’ life expectancy by one year.
(b) We see similarly serious situations in Australia and the UK. There are significantly high numbers of drug-related deaths reported in these jurisdictions in recent years.
10. The situation has also resulted in increased crime and drug-related violence.
(a) In the Belgian port city of Antwerp, the situation has deteriorated to a point that their mayor has said that the drug mafia is “a bigger threat to security than terrorism”. Just earlier this year, an 11-year old girl was shot and killed in a drug war between rival gangs, which of course sparked public outrage. The Belgium Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne had to hide in safe houses more than once due to the threat of narco-criminals.
(b) In 2022, San Francisco’s mayor declared a state of emergency in the city’s Tenderloin neighbourhood, due to the alarming rise in drug use, crime and homelessness. She said that overdoses, drug dealing, and street chaos were, in her words, “totally out of control.”
11. Despite the overwhelming evidence on the harms of drugs, we see increasing misinformation about the threat that they pose.
12. Take the misinformation surrounding cannabis. Some say that cannabis is not a dangerous drug and laud the countries that have legalised its recreational use. But we do see worrying outcomes in these jurisdictions.
13. In Colorado, the first US state to legalise cannabis in late 2012, cannabis use by those above 12 years old, has increased significantly, by 26%. Since legalisation:
(a) The number of traffic fatalities in 2020 where the driver tested positive for cannabis, is more than double the number in 2013.
(b) The rate of cannabis-related hospitalisations of children under six years old doubled from 2019 to 2021. During this same period, hospitals saw an increase in newborns affected by maternal marijuana use.
14. Some proponents of cannabis legalisation argue that legalisation would not directly cause more drug abuse. However, a recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota and University of Colorado found otherwise.
(a) The study compared cannabis use between identical twins who lived in two different states – one where cannabis is legal and another where it is illegal. The study found that the twin living in the state where cannabis is legal, used cannabis 20% more frequently than the twin who lived in a state where it is illegal.
(b) This points to the significant impact legalisation has on cannabis use, and we know from evidence that cannabis is often not where the abuse will stop. It is a gateway substance It leads to abuse of other kinds of substances.
A Call to Action
15. This brings me to the key reason we are gathered here today. We need to work together to combat this tide of misinformation about drug use, and raise a collective voice for the anti-drug cause.
16. When I attended the meetings organised by the United Nations Commission on Narcotics Drugs (UN CND) in March this year, a fellow participant shared with me that gangs in their country were flooding the cities with drugs. These gangs recruit young people to traffic drugs, engage in gang-related violence, and to even conduct killings.
17. Another participant expressed concern about the ease of access to drugs due to the normalisation of drugs infused in food, marketed as edibles and increased reports of hospitalisation due to misuse and overdose of cannabis.
18. Ms Amy Ronshausen, President of the World Federation Against Drugs, shared with me that her organisation was working towards pushing back against drug legalisation policies and focussing their efforts on recovery-oriented services, so that former abusers can lead fruitful drug-free lives.
19. In short, all of us – the NGOs gathered here, and the government officials whom I had the privilege of speaking to – we all share the same concerns.
(a) The rise of drug crimes and organised drug cartel activities that is threatening safety and security in many countries.
(b) The harms that drug addiction will bring to the lives and health of the next generation of youths. It especially pains me to hear of drug raids, where adult caregivers are found intoxicated, abusing drugs in close proximity of their children, sometimes an infant that is left uncared for.
(c) We also share concerns about the rising tides of drug legalisation and of misinformation, that are changing the attitudes and perceptions of societies towards drugs.
20. As a group that strives for a drug-free society for our people, we must make our voices heard above the misinformation. We must call out the fallacies that are being promoted by the lobbyists and proponents of legalisation and decriminalisation.
21. We can build on the good work that has already been done. For example, I appreciate SANA’s efforts at raising awareness of the harm prevention approach at international platforms. SANA has been an active contributor at events held by the UN CND. Their side event this year, titled Peer Leaders – Catalyst for Change, Mirrors of Hope, which some of you may have attended, shared stories on the recovery journey of ex-drug abusers in Singapore and how they contributed to the recovery of their peers.
22. I urge all of us here to do the same and raise our voices against the legalisation of drugs for non-scientific and non-proven medical uses.
23. Drugs do not affect one country alone. Anti-drug communities, both governments and civil society, need to stand up against the growing pro-drugs movement. We must step up our efforts to protect our youths, strengthen their awareness, and also build their resilience against drugs.
24. The pro-drugs movement argues for profits for the companies, but who speaks up for the victims of their trade? I believe that all of us here in this room are well placed to do so, and I would say that we have, in fact, a moral duty and responsibility.
25. As a member of the UN CND for the term 2024 to 2027, Singapore hopes to raise awareness of our harm prevention approach which seeks to achieve a drug-free society, while also learning from the best practices around the world. Singapore recognises the important role civil society plays at the CND platform, and therefore, as a member of the Commission, we seek the support of the organisations gathered here, in our efforts to push back against the liberalisation of drugs.
26. I look forward to hearing the good ideas from this conference, and I wish everyone a fruitful discussion.
27. Thank you very much.