Published: 20 October 2016
Honourable Chairman, His Excellency, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law Mr K Shanmugam,
Excellencies of the ASEAN Member States and the ASEAN Secretariat
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. On behalf of the Singapore delegation, I would like to welcome you once again to Singapore. We hope you have enjoyed your stay so far.
2. ASEAN unity was clearly demonstrated when we spoke with one voice at the 59th United Nations (UN) Commission on Narcotic Drugs and the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) earlier this year. We were able to reinforce our views, positions and commitment for a Drug-Free ASEAN and we have to continue enhancing our collaboration to ensure ASEAN's voice is heard.
The Worsening Global Drug Situation
3. Strengthening ASEAN collaboration is especially important as the global and regional drug situations remain challenging. Opiates persist as a perennial problem in our region. Trends in the abuse of synthetic drugs are also worrying. According to the 2016 World Drug Report, global seizures of synthetic drugs have risen more than seven-fold since 1998. East and Southeast Asia account for a large proportion of this, being one of the largest and fastest growing methamphetamine markets in the world.
4. We are also racing to keep up with the developments in the New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) market. This is a point also noted by our Malaysian and Indonesian delegates. The constant churn of NPS makes enforcement on the ground challenging. Although data collection for 2015 is still in progress, UNODC has already received reports of 75 new substances, compared with only 66 in the previous year.
5. We must continue to stay vigilant and we must cooperate with each other, and share our knowledge in tackling threats like NPS. We must prevent the regional drug situation from worsening, for the safety and security of our people.
Singapore's Drug Situation
6. These global trends have real and tangible implications on the well-being of our people, especially on our future generations. In Singapore, nearly 70% of the new abusers arrested in 2015 were below 30 years old. New abusers below 20 years old had increased by almost 50% compared to 2014.
7. We are worried that our younger generation may be adopting a more casual attitude towards drugs. Some of them are experimenting with drugs such as methamphetamine, which has now overtaken heroin as the most commonly abused drug in Singapore. For new abusers, cannabis is the second most commonly abused drug. They mistakenly perceive cannabis to be less harmful and addictive. They see it glamourised in both mainstream and social media. They are curious when they see the pro-legalisation camp advocate the supposed medical benefits of cannabis, and push for the right to enjoy recreational drugs. What they may not see as clearly are the vested interests of these lobby groups to legitimise a lucrative industry.
8. Experts at the Singapore Institute of Mental Health conducted an extensive literature review in 2015 on cannabis. They came to three conclusions. First, cannabis is harmful. Second, cannabis is addictive. And third, there is insufficient evidence on the effectiveness for medical cannabis, especially given the number of other viable treatments that already exist. Long-term cannabis use is associated with brain volume reduction and irreversible brain changes that lower IQs and conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder. This is not what we want for our children. We have a responsibility to safeguard their futures, so they can live their lives to the fullest potential, and not throw it away for temporary highs.
The Importance of Preventive Drug Education
9. Our first line of defence is preventive drug education. We want to reach out to our youths to help educate them on the harms of drug abuse and build their resilience against drugs. We set up a Task Force on Youth and Drugs in 2015 to enhance our efforts on this front. As part of the Task Force recommendations, we stepped up our engagement of older youths above the age of 16. This is a group that is young enough to be susceptible to peer influence, yet old enough to find means to obtain drugs if they wanted to.
10. To ensure our messages resonate with the youths, we have to tailor our approach to ensure our messages are relevant.
a). First, we have adapted our messages to present our youths with the hard facts and evidence, so they can have a better understanding of the harms of drug abuse.
b). Second, youths are active on social media. So we have also stepped up our engagement on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube; and we are also now on Snapchat.
c). Third, parents, educators and third-party advocates. They all play a role in reaching out more effectively to the youths. We have developed a Preventive Drug Education Toolkit for parents and educators, and we are also building an Anti-Drug Abuse Advocacy Network (A3) in our communities. These are individuals who value our drug-free society who can proactively speak up and share anti-drug messages through their own channels.
11. There is a phrase popular among youths these days. They say "YOLO", meaning "You only live once". This is exactly what we need to help them realise. They must recognise that living their lives to the fullest does not mean trying drugs to satisfy their curiosity. It means going drug-free so that they can lead healthy, meaningful and joyful lives. It means being empowered to carve out their futures, rather than being enslaved by addiction.
Enforcement and Rehabilitation
12. Aside from preventive drug education, we have also enhanced our enforcement efforts. We enhanced our laws in 2013 to impose harsher penalties for those who supply drugs to the young. We recognise that drug syndicates are becoming increasingly sophisticated in evading detection and arrest. Our new Organised Crime Act came into force in June this year. It strengthens our abilities to tackle organised crime, from the street-level members of drug syndicates to the highest tier of leaders who mastermind or finance these activities. We want to detect, disrupt and dismantle these organisations, as well as deprive them of their ill-gotten gains.
13. Beyond strong prevention and enforcement, rehabilitation is also a crucial component of building a drug-free society. Ultimately, we want to save lives. When abusers come into our system, we must help them break out of the cycle of addiction and successfully reintegrate them back into society.
a). On the youth front, we have worked with our National Addiction Management Services to introduce the Anti-drug Counselling and Engagement (ACE) Programme early this year. This is a structured rehabilitative counselling programme which equips youths with skills to cope with addiction. It will also involve their parents, who are their most important source of support and supervision.
b). For adult abusers, we have implemented the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme which provides enhanced community support, counselling and structured supervision extending into the aftercare phase.
14. With the mounting challenges in the global and regional drug situation, regional cooperation is more vital than ever. There is growing international debate on a new global action plan to succeed the current UN Political Declaration and Plan of Action. We must continue to push forward as a united ASEAN, to safeguard our flexibility to pursue the Drug-Free ASEAN we aspire to.
15. Our efforts today create the societies of tomorrow. We must ensure our children do not grow up in an environment which takes drugs lightly. We must help them make the right choices in the face of all the pressures they will face. Most of all, we must help them create a safe and secure future where they are empowered to live their lives to the fullest. I urge all delegates to stay committed to the fight against drugs, as we forge ahead together for a better ASEAN.
16. Thank you.