Singapore Statement at the 60th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 14 March 2017

Madam Chairperson


Executive Director Yury Fedotov




Ladies and Gentlemen


The World Drug Situation


1. By UNODC's estimates, 247 million people used illicit drugs in 2014 and more than 200,000 people died through drug-related causes.  


2. We have seen an alarming rise in the use of heroin in some regions, accompanied by an upsurge of fatal overdoses. Thousands of people die each month because they abuse prescription and synthetic opioids. And methamphetamine abuse, or "ice", is on the rise in Asia.  


3. We are racing to keep up with new threats. Almost 650 new psychoactive substances were reported to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) from 2008 to 2015. And this may merely be scratching the surface. We have our work cut out for us.  


4. Singapore participated actively in the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) 2016. At UNGASS, we reached consensus on operational recommendations to guide all countries in the fight against the drug problem, and to aspire to be societies that are free of drugs.


5. We should all work hard to actively implement these recommendations, to meet the goals we set out in the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action.


Singapore's Commitment to Fighting Drugs


6. In 2016, the number of drug abusers detected in Singapore decreased by 3% compared to the year before. Drug abusers comprise less than 0.1% of our population. But we are far from immune from the threat from drugs. In fact, we have to work very hard beneath the surface to keep our streets drug free, as they have been for many years.


7. First, the proximity of the Golden Triangle to Singapore, coupled with our position as a transport hub, makes us vulnerable to regional drug developments. The Golden Triangle is the second largest source of opium globally. The UNODC estimates that methamphetamine and heroin trafficking in East and Southeast Asia generates more than US$32 billion annually, larger than the GDP of some countries. Drug syndicates from East Asia, Southeast, Central Asia – and even Africa – are attracted to this lucrative market. So our geography makes us potentially very vulnerable, both as a transit point and import market.  


8. Second, we are a highly connected city, both physically and virtually. Ideas, just like people, flow in and out of our borders. On a monthly basis, more than 1 million international visitors come through our borders, while Singaporeans make an average of 700,000 trips a month. Close to 90% of households have Internet and broadband access.  


9. Such openness and connectivity have been a big plus for a small city like us, but it also brings a new set of challenges that preventive drug education work must now meet. Our young see drugs portrayed online as cool lifestyle choices, harmless, acceptable, the norm, or even beneficial. Over time, they may adopt a more cavalier attitudes towards drugs. Some start to experiment. And they influence each other.


10. In Singapore, we are starting to see the consequences of shifts in attitudes towards drugs. Drug abuse among young people has increased. In 2016, the majority of new abusers detected in Singapore were below the age of 30. And this is a real concern, even though our overall drug problem is well under control.


11. Madam Chairperson, these are not just mere statistics or numbers. Each represents a life destroyed, and a family who gets hurt. Drugs Destroy Real Lives


12. Last year, the Singapore Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) arrested a man for drug trafficking. But what they found out next was far worse. He had actually taught his two teenage sons to smoke "ice" or methamphetamine. He actively supplied their drug habit and made his own sons addicts.


13. We had another case last year where a drug trafficker locked up himself in his apartment and resisted arrest. It was all over social media in Singapore. He wielded a cleaver and threatened to burn down his apartment – along with his 71-year old mother who was inside with him at the time. He was found to be high on drugs.


14. Whilst these cases are not common in our city, they shock people's senses and show the very real harm that drugs can cause to societies, families and individuals.


15. I am sure fellow delegates have seen similar tragedies play out in your own countries and societies. We cannot let our guard down. And we cannot start to believe that we are solving the drug pandemic by treating the problem downstream, while taking our foot off the pedal when it comes to upstream demand and supply issues. For the well-being of our people, we cannot relent on these fronts.


Comprehensive Harm Prevention


16. The drug problem is multi-dimensional so we must deal with it on all fronts. Singapore believes in a comprehensive harm prevention strategy to address law and order issues, social problems and the public health impact of drugs.


17. Our harm prevention strategy begins with public education as our first, important line of defence. In an era where drugs are irresponsibly glamorised in both mainstream and social media, we must double our drug education outreach efforts, especially to our impressionable younger generation, on the harms of drug abuse. And we must do so in ways that allow us to better connect with those who are most at risk of addiction. How often it is that government messages reach the wrong people, or don't really reach the people who really need it. In Singapore, we are engaging parents, educators and the wider community to create an environment where drugs have no place in our lives. We are building networks of anti-drug advocates to speak up against drug abuse. We are tailoring our preventive drug education for different segments of society. My colleagues would be happy to share more information on our initiatives at Singapore's preventive drug education exhibition at the Rotunda. And we also want to take this opportunity to learn about what you do on the drug prevention front.


18. The second prong of our harm prevention strategy comprises tough laws and robust enforcement. Criminal syndicates think twice before trying to bring drugs into or through Singapore because they know that law enforcement is actively seeking them out, in cooperation with international counterparts. And our laws are tough, swift and uncompromising against those who attempt to peddle death to our people.


19. The third part of our harm prevention strategy is our structured and evidence-based rehabilitation framework. We invest heavily in rehabilitation. We seek to help drug abusers kick the habit, and regain control of their lives. So drug abusers go through mandatory treatment and rehabilitation. We equip drug abusers with skills to overcome their own addiction and tailor support programmes to help them stay clean and reintegrate back into society. These include counselling, supervision, family programmes, skills training and job matching, among others. Their complete recovery is our goal, and we aim to drive drug recidivism rates down as far as we can.


20. Preventive education, tough laws and effective and swift enforcement, as well as comprehensive rehabilitation, are all crucial pillars for us in our city, to build a drug-free society. It is hard and it will get harder. But our people have a right to a safe environment. They have a right to lead healthy and meaningful lives. And they have a right to demand that their children grow up in a safe environment, free from the scourge of drugs. As national governments, this is our responsibility.




21. As we mark the 60th anniversary of the CND, we remind ourselves that this Commission is the leading body in the United Nations for drug-related issues, guided by the three international conventions. These conventions remain the cornerstone of international drug policy, even as we tackle the future challenges of drug control. Singapore supports the centrality of these conventions.


22. The tone we set through our laws, policies and practices have an indelible impact on our people's mindset, including our young. We have a responsibility to protect our people and secure the well-being of the next generation. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, because as you've heard all the previous speakers, the causes and symptoms of each country's drug problem is different. Each state has the sovereign right and responsibility to implement its own drug policies, drug prevention policies and strategies that work best for their societies. But if we believe that drugs are harmful and we do not want them for our children – for our own children – then I urge delegates to ensure that our plans and actions indeed reflect this long-term aspiration.


23. Let us affirm, or reaffirm our joint commitment to effectively address and counter the world drug problem. Thank you.