Sunday, 9 November 2014

Task force to tackle youth drug problem

Students, NSFs, adults in their 20s will be focus of multi-agency group
By Amir Hussain, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2014

THE growing problem of drug use among Singapore youth is of such concern that a multi-agency task force is being formed to tackle the issue head on.

It will look at how to deal with the drug threat among students, full-time national servicemen and young adults in their 20s, and will consider measures ranging from preventive education to detection, enforcement, counselling and rehabilitation.

This was revealed yesterday by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, who will co-chair the task force.

Mr Masagos said there were several trends that are particularly worrying. Young abusers tend to use cannabis, methamphetamine, or New Psychoactive Substances - mistakenly thinking these drugs are less harmful and addictive than "traditional" drugs such as opium or heroin.

The trend has been made worse by the legalisation of some of these drugs, such as cannabis or marijuana, overseas. Just this week, Oregon and Alaska in the United States became the latest states to legalise its recreational use.

"Second, we are concerned with increasingly liberal attitudes towards drugs," said Mr Masagos.

While most people hold a negative attitude towards drug abuse, a greater proportion of those aged 17 to 21 are more likely to think that "it's all right to try drugs for a new experience".

This is according to a National Council Against Drug Abuse survey conducted last year.

"Popular movies and TV normalise drug use while various online sites, forums and social media advocate the legalisation of cannabis for recreational use," said Mr Masagos.

The Central Narcotics Bureau has also recently detected clusters of young drug abusers, who tend to be classmates or who may have got to know each other through other activities, Mr Masagos said.

The number of drug abusers arrested has been rising since 2006. Last year, there was a 2 per cent increase from 2012. But the numbers are far more alarming when it comes to young people.

Over the past decade, the number of drug abusers under 20 who were arrested increased by an average of 7 per cent each year. For those aged between 20 and 29, the figure was 11 per cent.

The task force, which will also be co-chaired by Minister of State for Education Sim Ann, will include government agencies and community partners, including the Singapore Anti Narcotics Association (SANA). More details will be announced at a later date.

Speaking yesterday at an annual dinner organised by SANA to celebrate the contributions of its volunteers, donors and community partners, Mr Masagos said the drug situation here remains challenging. But he added that the Government will uphold its "zero-tolerance approach".

Mr Masagos also praised the work done by SANA's Drug Abuse Prevention Committees, which were formed in 1979 to spread the anti-drug message.

He said SANA, which will look for 200 more volunteers to extend its reach, will start support groups for female ex-offenders and families of inmates in April next year, among other initiatives. And with the support of CNB and the Singapore Prison Service, it will also set up a drop-in centre to keep ex-offenders from going back to drugs.

Singapore Aftercare Association director Prem Kumar said the rise in the number of drug abusers could lead to a "chain reaction".

He said: "Younger people are much more impressionable. If there is an upward trend among young adults, the spread of drug abuse to others in their group of friends will be higher."

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