Published: 27 August 2015
Mr Victor Lye, Chairman, National Council Against Drug Abuse,
Mr Ng Ser Song, Director, Central Narcotics Bureau,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to welcome you to the first-ever Asia-Pacific Forum against Drugs (APFAD) today. I want to thank the National Council Against Drug Abuse, or NCADA, for creating this platform, that gathers like-minded individuals from government and non-government organisations (NGOs) across the region to exchange knowledge and experience in our work to build a drug-free society.
A Drug-Free Asia-Pacific for our Children
2. The theme for this forum is "A Drug-Free Asia-Pacific for our Children". We are here today because we all share a common vision – to build a drug-free society for our children.
In Singapore, we adopt a firm zero-tolerance stance against drugs. Singaporeans appreciate and enjoy the safe drug-free environment for our children and families, made possible by our comprehensive anti-drug policies. However, we cannot be complacent in this ongoing fight against drugs as the global drug situation remains challenging.
3. In recent years, we have seen growing calls from pro-drug lobbyists to decriminalise drug use and even legalise certain drugs. Many pro-drug activists have framed the fight against drugs as a "failed war" and are moving away from drug controls, and supporting approaches such as decriminalisation and legalisation. Some countries in Europe and South America, as well as some states in the USA, have adopted such policies and are also encouraging others to do the same. They have chosen this approach because they could not keep drug abuse low. Therefore, they focus instead on increasing their tax revenues or alleviating prison overcrowding through decriminalisation and legalisation. Hence, the next global debate on drug policies at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) in 2016 will mark an important crossroads in our fight against drugs.
4. The misconceptions being propagated on cannabis are another worrying development. Pro-drug lobbyists claim that cannabis is neither harmful nor addictive. However, there are compelling studies which show the permanent deterioration in brain functions of youths who use cannabis. There are also claims made about the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine. In fact, the medical benefits of cannabis are not conclusive at this point. Much more medical research and tests are still needed. Furthermore, even if it is proven that cannabis has medicinal value, the answer is still not de-criminalisation or legalisation. Cannabis must still be controlled and administered in the same professional manner as other drugs, such as the use of morphine for pain management.
5. We are worried that these global trends are influencing our young people to take a liberal view on drug use. This is where we, as a community, will need to stand firm, and stand together, to proactively dispel these myths. In order to safeguard our children's future, we must stay committed to building a drug-free community for all.
6. In recent years, Singapore has seen an increasing trend of drug use by young persons below the age of 30. I am sure this development is not unique to us and is a problem shared by our fellow participants. In a 2013 youth perception survey, we found that Singaporean youths, particularly those aged 16 to 21, tend to have more liberal attitudes towards drugs. They perceive drugs such as cannabis to be less harmful and addictive than "hard" drugs such as heroin and are hence more willing to experiment with these "soft" drugs. The misperception is perpetuated by information that is easily found on the internet, which is not necessarily accurate and may be half-truths, misinformation, and lies.
7. To tackle these trends, in November 2014, we convened a Task Force on Youths and Drugs, which I co-chaired with Minister of State Sim Ann. The Task Force involved representatives from government agencies, as well as non-government organisations and community partners. The organiser for the APFAD, NCADA, was one of the community organisations on the Task Force.
8. The Task Force has since completed its review and one of its key recommendations was to enhance preventive drug education outreach to older youths aged above 16. We believe that effective preventive drug education is our first line of defence against drugs.
9. The Taskforce also recommended building a community of advocates against drugs. Singapore's experience with this Task Force, and indeed, in our ongoing fight to combat drugs, has been that it is crucial to partner and harness the support of different community stakeholders in order for our efforts to be effective. "Community Togetherness" allows us to better tackle the complex issue of drugs more effectively and holistically.
One Asia-Pacific Against Drugs
10. This is why I am very glad that NCADA has taken the initiative and the bold step of organising this first-ever Asia Pacific Forum Against Drugs, or APFAD in short. APFAD is a good platform for learning and networking. NCADA has put together a comprehensive programme and has invited speakers like Mr Erik Leijonmarck and Mr Kevin Sabet, who will share their experiences and research findings with you later today on UNGASS 2016 and on cannabis respectively. NCADA has also invited Mr Tay Bian How from the Colombo Plan, Mr Pubudu Sumanasekara from IOGT International, and other practitioners from Singapore, to share more about preventive drug education, treatment and rehabilitation.
11. I am also very encouraged to see so many familiar faces from within Singapore's anti-drug ecosystem, and also new friends, from the Asia-Pacific region and even beyond. Let us take this opportunity to not only learn from the speakers, but also from each other, and to build up and strengthen our networks and partnerships with each other.
12. Ladies and Gentlemen, please also take a look in the APFAD conference kit which was specially prepared for you. In there, you will find a green and white anti-drug collar pin that is attached to a card holder. The green and white colours of the anti-drug ribbon signify 'Health', 'Vitality' and 'Strength'. Do wear this anti-drug ribbon during the forum as a symbol of our united stand against drugs.
13. Last but not least, I understand that NCADA, as the organiser of the forum, plans to put together an "APFAD Declaration". I encourage all participants to give their endorsement to make our stand against drugs clear to the rest of the world. The Declaration comprises key points of consensus centred on APFAD's vision of a drug-free society for our children. Drug abuse destroys lives and families. The addict causes harm not just to himself and his family, but also to his community and his society.
14. Apart from endorsing the Declaration, I also urge all of you to work with your respective governments to put across a clear and unequivocal position at UNGASS 2016 that there are still countries and organisations that have not given up the fight against drugs, and are working hard to achieve a society free from drug abuse, for the sake of our children.
15. Ladies and Gentlemen, our fight against drugs can only be effective if our communities continue to support the fight against the scourge of drugs. This cannot just be a whole-of-Government effort. It needs to be a whole-of-Society effort. We need all citizens to participate in every way they can – for example, by educating our children about drugs, or by helping addicts reintegrate into society. Lastly, as one united anti-drug community, we need to send a strong signal opposing drug abuse taking root in society.
16. With the joint efforts of non-government organisations, governments around the world, and the United Nations, I believe that it is possible to realise our vision of a drug-free world. I wish you a fruitful discussion ahead. Thank you.