Statement for Roundtable on Demand Reduction at UNGASS 2016 - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 21 April 2016

1.     It is my pleasure to join my fellow panellists at this roundtable on demand reduction. We see countries today adopting, broadly, two approaches. One is demand reduction and the other is harm reduction.


2.     In Singapore, we focus on demand reduction.  This is in line with the international drug conventions.


3.     That approach has been very successful for us in our fight against drugs. One indicator of our success is the number of drug abusers arrested in the last 20 years. In the 1990s, we used to arrest over 6,000 abusers per year. Now it's about 3,000 or so. This is against the backdrop of a more prosperous Singapore where people have more money to spend on drugs, and amidst a worsening regional drug situation where the supply of drugs has mushroomed.  Despite that, the numbers have been reduced substantially.


4.     What this means is that 3,000 lives saved every year, for the past 2 decades. Recidivism rates have also halved from over 60% to 30%. These figures stand in stark contrast to the experience of other countries which have tried to reduce drug demand. However, we understand that what works for us may not work for others.


5.     Demand reduction is part of our comprehensive and balanced approach to tackling drugs. Our approach has the following facets: First, targeted preventive education. Second, tough laws within a robust legal framework, and effective enforcement. Third, comprehensive rehabilitation and supervision programmes to prevent relapse. Fourth, active partnership with families, NGOs, and the community – working with them to facilitate the reintegration of ex-abusers into society. Details are in the handouts that we have circulated.


6.     We have therefore not seen the need to go down the route of harm reduction. We have very few HIV infections from drug users who inject themselves. And deaths from drug overdose are extremely rare.


7.     I think you go into harm reduction if you believe that demand reduction won't work. For example, when the drug abuse situation has reached a scale where it cannot be dealt with. We are not there yet, in Singapore.


8.     The harm reduction approach raises an underlying issue – drug use impairs the individual's cognitive ability. We have had experts at Singapore's Institute of Mental Health conduct a literature review of more than 500 articles. They went through literature from reputable medical journals. The evidence was clear: Cannabis is harmful and addictive. Dr Jimmy Lee from the research team is here to share more during the discussion.  


9.     We do not believe in Singapore that providing abusers with drugs is going to help. And I don't think many people believe that drug abuse is a good thing.


10.     I can understand that, when it is on a scale where drug demand cannot be controlled, then you have to look at alternative approaches. But when there are countries that are successful, they should not be forced to go down the harm reduction approach.


11.     There are different possible approaches, and we need to come to a consensus on how we can move forward as one global community, to address this issue. Every country should have the right to choose the approach that works best for them, based on their unique norms and circumstances.


12.     Our focus is on building a drug-free Singapore, not a drug-tolerant Singapore. This is integral to how we maintain law and order, and keep Singapore safe and secure. It is also in line with our shared vision within South-East Asia of a Drug-Free ASEAN.


13.     Some countries are able to go down the path of harm reduction without severe consequences to their society. It all depends on the societal context. But not all countries can have such results.


14.     We look forward to having constructive discussions on this issue, especially in the lead-up to 2019. I hope we can reach a consensus that allows countries to make decisions which are in the best interests of their own citizens.



Handout for UNGASS Demand Reduction Roundtable