Published: 11 November 2022
SANA Vice President, Dr Ismail Muhamad Hanif
Commissioner of Prisons, Ms Shie Yong Lee
SANA Volunteers and Donors
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good evening. I am happy to be able to be with you, and happy to see many familiar faces.
2. First, I would like to thank everyone for supporting SANA’s efforts in preventive drug education and the rehabilitation of former drug abusers. Your commitment is central to our collective efforts to keep Singapore drug-free.
Global and Local Drug Situation
3. We are operating in a challenging drug environment. Globally, there has been an increasingly liberal view towards drugs. Unable to control drugs, some countries have turned to a harm reduction approach, where the focus is not on preventing drug abuse, but controlling the harms arising from it. This is done through practices such as needle-exchange programmes or safe injection rooms. Some jurisdictions have legalised cannabis and allowed cannabis products to be sold openly. This is largely driven by commercial interest.
4. This increasingly liberal view towards drugs is amplified by social media. There is a lot of misinformation easily available on social media and the internet – promoting the supposed benefits of drugs, downplaying its harms.
5. A notable development in the region was the legalisation of cannabis in Thailand in June 2022. Thailand is the first country in Asia to do so. Since then, cannabis-infused products like toothpaste, tea and soaps are sold openly on the streets.
6. This is a concerning move as Thailand’s proximity to Singapore means that it would be easier for Singaporeans to gain access to such drugs. We have stepped up efforts on this front – such as by putting up notices at our airports to remind Singaporeans that it is illegal to consume drugs overseas, and to be mindful that products may contain drugs.
7. Singapore is operating with a different approach. We take a harm prevention approach. We are one of the few countries that have been successful in supressing drug abuse. There is also strong support from Singaporeans on the approach taken towards drugs. Especially in recent weeks, I’ve been meeting many Singaporeans who came to me and shared with me that they strongly support our efforts and stance, because they know we are here to protect Singaporeans and Singapore.
8. There are some who challenge our zero-tolerance stance towards drugs, including the use of the death penalty for the trafficking of significant quantities of drugs. This is in spite of evidence showing the harm of drugs, and evidence supporting the deterrent effect of the death penalty in Singapore.
9. We are glad to know that the majority of Singaporeans support our approach. But we cannot take this support for granted and have to constantly make efforts to maintain this support.
Importance of Community Support in Anti-Drug Efforts
10. Besides strong enforcement, we need to help abusers rehabilitate, and help them and their families get back with their lives. The community, especially organisations like SANA, play an important role in supporting anti-drug efforts.
11. I have seen the extensive contributions of volunteers from the SANA Peer Leaders and the Yellow Ribbon Community Project.
12. The result of these efforts is evident through the two-year recidivism rates, which have been on a general downward trend – falling from over 27% for the 2012 release cohort, to 20% most recently for the 2019 release cohort. The recidivism rate for the Drug Rehabilitation Centre 2019 release cohort is also not far off, at 24.5%.
13. The Ministry of Home Affairs is now looking to reduce the five-year recidivism rates as well. To do so, we need to examine longer-term re-integration issues. For example, we need to improve ex-offenders’ employability through upskilling and help them stay employed in the longer run. We need to strengthen their support networks from the start of their rehabilitation journey, when incarcerated, and continue to sustain these pro-social networks after their release.
14. The support from volunteers and community partners through this rehabilitation and reintegration journey becomes even more important.
SANA Volunteers’ Efforts
15. Tonight, as we celebrate the contributions from SANA’s volunteers, donors, and community partners, I would like to specially commend the efforts of SANA’s Peer Leaders.
16. SANA’s Peer Leaders are actively involved in facilitating support groups for ex-drug abusers. They are deployed as co-facilitators with SANA’s aftercare case managers. They work hand-in-hand to translate concepts of recovery into relatable life experiences, so it is easier for participants to understand. The experiences of the Peer Leaders also provide a sense of hope to participants, that staying drug-free is possible, despite the challenges they may face in the recovery process.
17. On the preventive drug education front, the Peer Leaders share their experiences and testimonies at school talks and engage youths at risk. SANA will continue reach out to youths at risk from various institutions.
18. One such sharing by the Peer Leaders took place at the Muhammadiyah Welfare Home in June 2022.
19. More than half of the residents said the programme instilled self-awareness and motivated them to make self-improvements. Participants also said they gained more confidence in their abilities to overcome problems.
20. One of the Peer Leaders, who shared his experience with the residents, is Mr David Chong. David has spent more than half of his life behind bars – he served 14 sentences and 36 years in total. Now, David has successfully led a drug-free life since he was last released in 2014. David delivers motivational and counselling-related talks locally and overseas.
21. As a Peer Leader, David finds that not only do the sharing sessions encourage those whom he talks to, but they also serve as a reminder to himself to remain on the right path. David, our sincere thanks to you, for your contributions.
SANA’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Efforts
22. Another programme I would like to highlight is the “SANA Kakis” programme which SANA piloted in 2021. This is a befriending programme to reach out to persons in recovery, who have successfully completed their mandatory counselling sessions under the Singapore Prison Service, or have been released from prison. The SANA Kakis check on the physical, financial and emotional well-being of their assigned persons in recovery.
23. SANA Kakis was fully launched in March 2022. Progress has been encouraging as SANA has recruited around 30 volunteers under SANA Kakis this year so far. The recruitment campaign is still ongoing. In the past seven months, SANA Kakis have also engaged close to 160 persons in recovery. Well done, SANA Kakis!
24. The plans for the SANA Kakis do not stop here. Through tele-befriending, SANA Kakis will continue to engage persons in recovery for two years to ensure that their recovery journey is smooth. A SANA Kakis volunteer will also be assigned to persons in recovery who need more pro-social support, for more regular meet ups.
25. The SANA Kakis programme is a good example of how community initiatives can contribute to the efforts in reducing reoffending.
Efforts of Other SANA Volunteers
26. There are other equally committed volunteers who have been helping behind the scenes, quietly supporting SANA’s vision of building a drug-free Singapore.
27. For instance, Mr Arnold Apostol, who is SANA’s in-house photographer. Arnold has been present at most of the SANA events through the years, documenting SANA’s events and supporting SANA’s social media presence. Another volunteer is Ms Beth Wong, currently a university student studying media. She has put her skills to good use in a meaningful way, by producing marketing videos for SANA.
28. Thank you, Arnold, and Beth, for your contributions. There are many more like you whom I have met, and I am inspired by your passion, your kindness, and the commitment to go through this journey. But you find it meaningful and that keeps you going.
Appreciating Partners and Donors and Calling for More Volunteers
29. Apart from SANA’s volunteers, I would also like to thank all our partners who have contributed to SANA’s efforts significantly. In particular, Dr Kevin Chua Medical & Aesthetics Clinic and Laser Clinics Singapore Pte Ltd, which have played a crucial role in SANA’s Tattoo Removal Programme. The programme has benefitted more than 200 persons since its inception in 2013.
30. As SANA continues to explore ways to expand its initiatives to benefit more ex-abusers and their families, we call for more individuals and organisations to step forward to volunteer and partner us. Everyone has a part to play in keeping Singapore drug-free.
31. I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of SANA’s donors, including the Lee Foundation, PCS Security, Singapore Pools, and Trailblazer Foundation, to name a few. Your support has helped many SANA clients and their families. We urge our donors to continue to donate generously to support the good work of SANA.
32. Tonight, we will be honouring a total of 42 volunteers, of whom one, Mr Gopalakrishnan Nair, has contributed 15 years of service with SANA. I offer my heartiest congratulations to him and all award recipients.
33. Once again, I appreciate all the efforts from our volunteers, donors, and community partners. Thank you for your commitment and contributions in keeping Singapore drug-free. We look forward to your continued support for many more years to come. Thank you.