Published: 23 September 2023
President of SANA, Mrs Gillian Koh-Tan
My friends and colleagues from SANA
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Thank you for joining us this morning. I’m very happy that you're able to join us for this very important occasion. I would like to wish each and every of you a very good morning.
2. I'm very happy to be here today to launch SANA’s Preventive Drug Education, and the Rise Above Campaign.
3. Preventive Drug Education is our first line of defence and a key pillar in Singapore’s drug control strategy. It helps to counter the increasingly liberal attitude towards drugs, and the misinformation that drugs are not so harmful. Such liberal attitudes are dangerous, as they can lead to the decriminalisation of drugs, and in turn lead to increasing drug use.
Global and Local Drug Situation
4. When we look at other countries that went down this road to decriminalise drugs, we clearly see the severe and far-reaching consequences on their societies.
5. In the state of Oregon in the U.S., after they decriminalised the possession of small amounts of drugs in 2020, the number of unintentional opioid overdose deaths shot up. In 2021, the number of opioid overdose deaths was more than 2.5 times in 2019. According to a news report published in May 2023, overdose deaths have climbed nearly 50% in 2023.
6. In some parts of the city of Philadelphia, drug abuse takes place openly. I think you might have seen the TikTok videos going around. Addicts can be found passed out on the sidewalks, shuffling about aimlessly, or standing still on a stooped or bent over position, motionless for hours on end. Some observers have likened it to scenes from a zombie apocalypse. The streets are no longer safe. In some countries, they call it zombie drugs.
7. When we look at Latin America, where majority of countries have decriminalised drugs for personal use, drug cartels have become large criminal enterprises.
8. In Ecuador, crime, drugs and violence are rampant due to the presence of drug cartels. There are beheadings, bombings, assassinations, and children being gunned down. Children are also actively being recruited into gangs.
9. Portugal was once hailed a success story of the decriminalisation of drugs. Recent reports show overdose rates have almost doubled in Lisbon from 2019 to 2023. Crime, including robbery in public spaces, spiked 14% from 2021 to 2022.
10. Other parts of Europe are facing similar problems. So, it is happening in many places, in many countries, and one of the triggers was the decriminalisation.
11. The Netherlands, for example, has become a hub for global narcotics flow. In 2019, a Dutch lawyer for a state witness in a case against members of a violent drug gang, was shot dead outside his home. This prompted the chairman of the biggest Dutch police union to say that Netherlands has turned into a narco-state. So, as you can see from these examples, it clearly shows that, as a small city-state that has been having extraordinary growth, extraordinary achievements, we have a lot to lose, if we are not careful. That is why the government and stakeholders like yourself, together with the majority of the rest of Singaporeans, give very strong support to the strong stance that we have been taking. Because we know if we're not careful like some of these countries, the road ahead is just downhill. Recently I was in in the US, I spoke to some of my counterparts and I realised that what they are facing is not about managing drug abuse, it is about minimising death due to drug overdose. So, we are not there, we don't want to go there. We are alright, but we must persevere.
Drug Abuse Among the Young
12. The harms of drugs do not merely stop at the abuser. Drug abuse also directly impacts the drug abusers’ families, children and loved ones.
13. Innocent children are especially vulnerable. Children who grow up in a family where there is substance use disorder, are at significantly higher risk of developing the same addiction. Children whose parents have committed drug offences are about five times more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system.
14. There is also a worrying trend of more youth abusers. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the proportion of adolescents abusing cannabis is higher than the general population.
15. What about Singapore’s drug situation? It is currently under control, because of our effective drug control approach and the support we have from majority of Singaporeans. But we see a worrying trend of increasing number of young persons abusing cannabis.
16. Results from the 2022 Health and Lifestyle Survey by the Institute of Mental Health show that illicit drug consumption starts young, usually with cannabis. The mean age of onset of illicit drug consumption was 15.9 years old, and more than half of abusers, 52% to be exact, started with cannabis.
17. In Singapore, the number of new cannabis abusers arrested in 2022 increased by 71% from the year before. 70% of new cannabis abusers were below 30 years old. The number of cannabis abusers who are aged below 20 years old, have also increased threefold.
18. Drug trends and misinformation about drug use are easily spread through social media too. This can be very dangerous.
19. In May 2023, in Australia, it was reported that a 13-year-old Australian girl participated in an online drug trend called “chroming”, which involves inhaling toxic chemicals through the nose or mouth in order to get a temporary high. She suffered cardiac arrest, brain damage and eventually died. We do not want to let this happen in Singapore.
20. We cannot afford to allow a drug-tolerant mindset to drip into society – especially amongst our youth.
21. We need partners like SANA to firstly counter misinformation about drugs, secondly, educate our youth and public on the harms of drugs, thirdly, support ex-abusers, and fourthly, continue to keep Singapore drug-free.
Collaboration with LTA and SANA’s Initiatives
22. Today, we launch the Preventive Drug Education, and the Rise Above Campaign. This year, it features a collaboration between SANA and LTA, to support Singapore’s anti-drug efforts.
23. It is titled “Overcoming Addiction, Renewing Hope”, and seeks to raise awareness about the harms of drug abuse, and advocate for a drug-free lifestyle. It will showcase SANA’s peer leaders – persons who have overcome drug addiction and are now supporting others who are struggling with it.
24. The anti-drug messages I saw on the train and at the station are clear and compelling. It is presented very nicely, something that I hope will attract people to find out more, and, most importantly, support this cause. I have met quite a number of peer leaders, and they are a wonderful group of people not only wanting to desist, and have a significant rehabiliation and reintegration journey, but they also want to give back - they want to contribute to the bigger society so that we can have a drug-free Singapore.
25. These messages will reach more in the community and show how the community can work together to build a drug-free society.
26. This campaign also aims to be an extension of other efforts and good initiatives that SANA has been spearheading, such as SANA’s Badge Scheme and SANA’s Peer Leaders programme.
27. SANA’s Badge Scheme is targeted for students in uniformed groups. It has been effective in relaying drug-free messages to youth. Many students, who will be receiving the Gold Badge for being anti-drug advocates to their peers, are also here today. Thank you for doing your part in keeping Singapore free from drugs.
28. SANA’s Peer Leaders are volunteers who are actively involved in facilitating support groups for ex-drug abusers, and in preventive drug education. For instance, our emcee for today’s event, Hairi is also a SANA peer leader.
29. Hairi has kindly allowed me to share his story to inspire others in their journey.
30. Hairi was first introduced to drugs at 11 years old by his childhood friends. It led him down a spiral of addiction that spanned over 30 years. His turning point came when he was at Jamiyah Halfway House. When he went on home leave for the Hari Raya holiday, he then realised the impact and hurt his actions had caused his family, and decided that it was enough.
31. Since Hairi’s release, he has been an active volunteer with SANA as a peer leader. He also shares his testimony and journey with youth at the Muhammadiyah Welfare Home as part of SANA’s Youth Empowerment Programme. He hopes to help others realise that it is never too late to change and that there is no shame in seeking help.
32. I want to sincerely thank Hairi. I personally have seen Hairi going on the ground to help not only to spread the message, but also to inspire many others to live a drug-free life. We are blessed to have people like Hairi and the many other peer leaders, for your efforts to the anti-drug cause and for not giving up in your own journeys.
33. I would also like to acknowledge and thank SANA’s key partners and donors, like LTA, SBS Transit and Mr Peter Lim, for supporting SANA’s Preventive Drug Education efforts. To all of you out there, if you know of any persons and organisations that can play a part in this, please connect them with SANA. Because when SANA does it well, together with the stakeholders, it will benefit you, your families, your future generations, including mine.
34. The safe, and drug-free society we enjoy now is not something we should take for granted.
35. I met one of the leaders of a country. He wanted to learn what we do in Singapore. He shared with me that in his country, in every household, there is at least one drug abuser. So, he has practically lost control. Why? It started from taking it lightly, and not having a strong stance. We do not want to go there and we want to help as many people as possible.
36. In Singapore, we all can contribute in our own ways to ensure that the drug situation is under control. We want to continue and heighten this journey so that it remains this way for generations to come. Together, I believe, we can continue to keep Singapore drug-free, and safe for our children, youth and people.
37. Before I end, I want to invite you to join me to thank all our peer leaders for coming forward and playing their part.
38. Above all, I thank all of you for supporting us this morning. And I wish you a great weekend ahead. Thank you.