Published: 26 June 2015
Mr Chan Lee Mun, Principal and CEO of Nanyang Polytechnic,
Mr Victor Lye, Chairman, National Council Against Drug Abuse,
Mr Ng Ser Song, Director, Central Narcotics Bureau,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am pleased to be here today as we open the Anti-Drug Abuse Carnival 2015. This is a special year for all of us involved in combating drug abuse. Not only is it Singapore's 50th birthday, it is also the 20th anniversary of our Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign. This carnival is the centrepiece of this year's campaign, as we commemorate 20 years of partnering the community in the fight against drugs.
2. The theme for this year's Anti-Drug Abuse Campaign is "Community Togetherness". This is clearly shown today by the presence of many representatives from our community partners, such as those from our polytechnics, our ITE colleges and our Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs).
Thank you for being here, and thank you for your strong and unwavering support.
The next chapter of the fight against drugs
3. We have come a long way in our fight against drugs. Our firm zero-tolerance stance and comprehensive approach to tackling drugs have worked well for us. We have kept our streets free from drugs, and our children safe from drugs.
4. This is an ongoing fight, and we cannot afford to be complacent. Regionally, the drug situation remains challenging, with drug production growing every year. We must remain on our guard and prevent drugs from coming in to our shores. Internationally, we read reports of more countries giving up the fight against drugs. They have not been able to keep drug consumption under control and instead, are now dealing with the secondary problems of drug abuse, such as reducing HIV transmissions or alleviating prison overcrowding. Their policies of harm reduction and the decriminalisation of drug use send the wrong signals to society about how harmful and addictive drugs are.
5. While the overall drug situation in Singapore remains under control, some worrying trends have emerged. In recent years, we have arrested more young abusers aged below 30. The number of such drug abusers arrested has increased by 34% since 2010, from 826 in 2010 to 1,110 in 2014. The proportion of new drug abusers aged below 30 has also grown. In 2010, they made up half of all new abusers arrested. In 2014, this increased to about two-thirds of new abusers.
6. The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) is also seeing more cases of drug clusters amongst youths. A cluster is formed when one youth abuses drugs and subsequently introduces it to his friends and they in turn introduce it to their friends. Many of these youths had abused cannabis, thinking that it was not harmful. The profiles of youth abusers have also changed, with more coming from middle-class families and who are doing well in school.
Dispelling the Myths about Drugs
7. These are worrying trends which we must actively tackle. Since November last year, MOS Sim Ann and I have co-chaired a Task Force on Youths and Drugs to take pre-emptive steps to discourage and deter youths and young adults from taking drugs. The Task Force involved representatives from government agencies and community partners, including representatives from our schools, ITE and polytechnics, as well as youth representatives from NUS, MENDAKI, and Students Care Service.
8. Our review and recommendations build on the work of the previous Task Force on Drugs in 2012. Let me share four key recommendations with you today.
9. Preventive drug education (PDE) is our first line of defence in the war against drugs. We will do more to enhance our existing PDE efforts at the post-secondary level. For example, we will incorporate PDE messages into the school curriculum. CNB will also work with the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to incorporate anti-drug messages into HPB's "Live it Up!" programmes, which encourage students to make responsible decisions and keep a healthy lifestyle.
10. Second, we will actively dispel myths surrounding drugs, especially those about cannabis. Our task force found that cannabis abusers had the wrong impression that cannabis is a "soft" drug, and that it is less harmful and less addictive than tobacco. Such views were influenced by what they read on social media and by the legalisation of cannabis overseas. These views are wrong and dangerous!
11. You may have heard about states in the US which have legalised cannabis consumption for recreational use. But that is not the full picture. There are also stories of how cannabis has caused serious harm and led to fatal consequences. Earlier this month, a UK inquest heard how a teenager became depressed and eventually committed suicide after he began smoking cannabis. A man in Colorado, one of the states where cannabis has been legalised, is also on trial for murdering his wife after eating a cannabis-laced cookie. We must not allow these tragedies to happen in Singapore.
12. Fundamentally, cannabis, also known as marijuana, weed, or ganja, is addictive and harmful. This is not just the Government's view. We have also consulted medical professionals on the issue. It is especially harmful to young people, and its use has been linked to impairments in teenage brain development, lower psychomotor skills, development of psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, and even cognitive decline with a drop in IQ. Cannabis can also be addictive. Heroin and methamphetamine addicts in our prisons have been known to start their drug addictions with cannabis. Lastly, the medical benefits of cannabis for managing pain and epilepsy are not conclusive. It has also not been approved for use by medical authorities worldwide such as the US Food and Drug Administration. There are safer and more effective alternatives.
13. We will therefore work hard to combat all misperceptions on cannabis. My message to youths is this: Keep saying no to drugs. Do not ruin your lives and your futures. You can and will run afoul of the law if you experiment with drugs, whether you are in Singapore or overseas.
14. Third, we will expand our range of rehabilitation programmes for young drug abusers, to tackle their addictions early and effectively. Our programmes are differentiated and targeted at youths of different risk profiles. Over the past two years, we have enhanced our youth rehabilitation programmes by introducing the Youth Enhanced Supervision Scheme for low-risk abusers, and the Community Rehabilitation Centre for moderate-risk abusers.
15. Given the diverse profile of youth drug abusers, we will introduce a new programme for youth abusers. These youths could include those who have taken drugs but tested negative in their urine tests, perhaps because they took the drugs some time before the urine test was administered. CNB will refer these youth abusers to this programme, which will be run by the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS). As part of the programme, youths will be equipped with the skills to lead a drug-free lifestyle through experiential learning, counselling, support and guidance. We will also equip their parents with the knowledge and skills to support their children in their rehabilitation process.
16. Finally, we will build a community of advocates against drug abuse, to galvanise our entire community against drugs. We will develop toolkits for parents, educators, and youth counsellors to raise awareness of drug issues. The toolkits will include information on how to detect signs of drug abuse, and what to do if they suspect their child or student is abusing drugs. Additionally, together with the National Council Against Drug Abuse, MHA will form an Anti-drug Abuse Advocacy Network to bring all stakeholders together – including families, youth leaders, and the medical community – to provide advocacy training and share the latest updates on drug trends.
We will also appoint more anti-drug ambassadors to amplify our anti-drug messages. The introduction of international film star Mr Jackie Chan last month as our first-ever anti-drug ambassador was well-received, and I hope his experience and views inspired our youths to speak up and say no to drugs.
One Community Against Drugs
17. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have thus far managed to keep Singapore's drug situation under control and protect Singaporeans from the harm of drug abuse. But we must do more if we are to continue protecting our loved ones from drugs. All of us have a part to play in this effort – parents, educators, community partners, and most importantly, our youth themselves. It is my hope that the marking of this important milestone in Singapore's journey of anti-drug campaigns sparks off a larger movement – that of more youths coming forward to champion the anti-drug cause, and for this to grow into more community-led anti-drug initiatives. Together, let us work as one community to win the fight against drugs, and work towards a drug-free Singapore.
18. Please enjoy the carnival. Thank you.