Wednesday, 17 February 2016

70% of new drug abusers arrested in 2015 are aged below 30

CNB data also shows cannabis replaced heroin as second-most abused drug
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2016

More new drug abusers were arrested last year and nearly 70 per cent of them were aged below 30.

According to statistics released by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) yesterday, 3,338 drug abusers were arrested last year, a 6 per cent increase from the figure a year before.

This is largely attributed to an increase in new, young drug abusers - 283 people aged below 20 were arrested, almost 1-1/2 times the previous year's figure.

Out of 1,311 new abusers arrested, 901 of them - more than two-thirds - were aged below 30.

For new drug abusers, cannabis has replaced heroin as the second-most abused drug.

Cannabis seizures grew by about 26 per cent to 44.29kg last year, more than double the 15.57kg recovered in 2013.

According to Mr Eddie Joseph, assistant director of halfway house Teen Challenge, this is worrying as the substance can be a "gateway drug" for first-timers. A reason for its popularity could be how it is seen as "recreational, medical and not as harmful" as drugs such as Ice or heroin, although this may not be the case.

"Sooner or later, (drug abusers') tolerance levels will go up and they will turn to other substances such as new psychoactive substances (NPS)," said Mr Joseph. "We seldom have people sent here for the use of cannabis, but many of them have experimented with it before."

The value of drugs seized last year rose by about 5 per cent to around $8.56 million.

Besides the increase in cannabis seized, the number of Subutex tablets recovered jumped from 12 to 620, while 3,172 NPS tablets and 3.54kg of NPS were seized - up from 470 tablets and 114g respectively the year before.

Close to two times more Erimin-5 tablets were recovered as well.

The number of inhalant abusers arrested fell by 19 per cent to 96.

Ice and heroin continue to be the drugs abused by more than 90 per cent of those arrested, with Ice now the most abused drug.

This comes as the largest seizures of Ice were in East Asia and South-east Asia, according to the 2015 World Drug Report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Some 88 tonnes of Ice were recovered in 2013, up from 34 tonnes in 2009.

The CNB said that to "tackle the challenging regional drug situation", it conducted 11 joint operations with its foreign counterparts last year. These included two joint operations with Malaysia's Narcotics Crime Investigation Department, one of which dismantled a drug-trafficking syndicate based in Malaysia.

"There are signs of increasingly tolerant attitudes towards drugs, particularly among older youth," said CNB director Ng Ser Song.

The CNB plans to reach out to older youth, and preventive drug education remains the first line of defence.

Home Team Annual Statistics: New Drug Abusers Arrested Rises 20 per cent, Most Below Age of 30More young people are...
Posted by Home Team News (Singapore) on Sunday, February 14, 2016

Schools, parents 'can be more proactive' in tackling problem of young drug abusers
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2016

The growing number of young, first-time drug abusers is a cause for concern, and schools and parents can do more to help, said Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association executive director Abdul Karim.

According to the latest Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) statistics, nearly 70 per cent of new drug abusers arrested last year were below the age of 30. New abusers below the age of 20 jumped from 172 in 2014 to 260 last year.

Mr Karim said the ease of access to information as well as the loosening of drug laws in places such as Colorado in the United States could mislead youth to think that drugs such as cannabis are not dangerous. And it is not easy to monitor youth online activity.

"(Schools) must be aware of what is happening, the misinformation that youth may be getting from the Internet, and try to address this," he said.

Teenagers can easily get information about drugs on the Internet, including explanations of drug terms and how to use...
Posted by Life Does Not Rewind on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Parents could play a more proactive role as well.

"We need to encourage parents who may be concerned... to come forward and seek help or information," he added. "Perhaps we can look at whether there are enough channels for parents to raise this issue."

CNB said it has produced an anti-drug toolkit for educators and counsellors, and is making similar ones for parents and national service commanders, so that they can help young people to stay drug-free.

Mr Eddie Joseph, assistant director of halfway house Teen Challenge, said: "Many youth think that cannabis is not as serious. Usually, it is introduced to them by their peers at parties.

"But if we don't deal with young people who consume cannabis, they will soon 'graduate' to harder drugs," he said. "Young people are the most vulnerable group. They like to take risks and don't think as much about the consequences."

Psychiatrist Adrian Wang said there are risks to underestimating the dangers of drugs. "People think that they can use drugs recreationally, but even such use can cause depression, hallucinations and long-term use could lead to addiction," he said.

Said CNB yesterday: "The abuse of cannabis has also been associated with mental health problems and respiratory problems, and is especially harmful to youth."

It added: "There have been certain global developments that have led many to assume that cannabis is harmless... Many, especially impressionable youth, may start to believe these claims."

Young drug abusers have made up the bulk of first-time offenders since around 2011.

Man sentenced to 20 years in jail for drug trafficking turned life around
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 16 Feb 2016

Mr Mohammad Azahari Abdul Razak was less than 2g of heroin away from a death sentence when he was caught trafficking drugs in 2001.

Then 20, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail and 20 strokes of the cane.

Now 35, he started taking drugs from the age of 14 when his childhood friends introduced him to cannabis and pills. They would pool money to buy drugs and consumed them at a void deck.

At 16, he was arrested for rioting and sentenced to 18 months in jail, but returned to his old friends upon his release. At 17, he started taking heroin, working odd-jobs that earned him around $40 a day.

Then, he began selling the drugs. Not long after, he was arrested again for unlawful assembly and sentenced to six months in jail.

But it did not stop him from continuing his business in cannabis when he came out, and he moved on to heroin afterwards.

He was 18 when he was arrested a third time, for drug consumption. Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers caught him and two others red-handed in his three-room flat, and he was sentenced to a year in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre.

“Don’t try any drugs. Once you try it, it is very hard to unhook yourself from it. It is a lifetime of misery for a short moment of pleasure."
Posted by National Council Against Drug Abuse - NCADA on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The fourth and last time he was arrested, he was 20. He had started selling more heroin and was in a car with his partner when CNB officers intercepted them. "I could have been sent to the gallows," he said.

It was during his final jail stint that Mr Azahari decided to turn his life around, completing his O- and A-level examinations a few years before his release.

"I saw around me older, hardcore prisoners and it made me think: If I keep going down this path, I will come back. The next time I come back, it will be much tougher."

He was released in 2014 and found a retail job through the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises, where he met his wife.

The couple got married late last year.

Now, Mr Azahari is pursuing a diploma in chemical engineering at a polytechnic.

"Taking drugs, the fun is short-lived," he said. "If you're an addict, most of the time you will think of ways to find money... maybe commit crimes to get money. I don't think it's worth it."

Looking back, he said: "If you spend time in prison, what do you get in life?"

More Singapore youth seeking help for cannabis abuse
Cases of young people influenced by growing acceptance of drug overseas a worrying trend
By Seow Bei Yi, The Sunday Times, 21 Feb 2016

It was a National Geographic documentary he watched at home on television that got him believing that smoking cannabis could help with his attention deficit disorder (ADD).

The documentary featured the supposed medicinal uses of the drug.

Jack (not his real name), was 15 then and doing fine at school, with parents who were working professionals. Through neighbourhood friends, he got his hands on the drug and started smoking it once a week.

He was nabbed by narcotics officers late last year in the Housing Board flat where he lived. Now a 17-year-old student at the Institute of Technical Education, he was put on urine supervision and made to undergo counselling.

Cases such as his - young people being influenced by the growing acceptance of the drug overseas - are increasingly worrying the authorities and addiction counsellors.

Statistics released last Monday by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said nearly 70 per cent of new drug abusers arrested last year were aged below 30. Among first-timers, cannabis has also become the second-most abused drug.

Counsellors whom The Sunday Times spoke to said they are seeing more youth seeking help for the use of drugs, in particular cannabis.

Ms Jenny Liew, counsellor at the National Addictions Management Service (Nams), said it dealt with 252 new drug cases last year involving people aged below 30. In 2014, the number was 136.

Dr Munidasa Winslow, an addictions specialist, has seen a 20 per cent increase in visits by those aged below 25, seeking help with marijuana and synthetic marijuana, over the past two to three years. Most are brought to the clinic by their parents or spouses.

Psychiatrist Thomas Lee, who is also a substance abuse counsellor, said that he has seen a 20 per cent jump in patients in their 20s and 30s since 2013. More of them have a history of cannabis abuse.

The Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana) has also been dealing with an average of 13 young people each month since last November. Between January and July last year, the number was just four.


More young people are being influenced into thinking that cannabis is a "safe high", said Dr Winslow, when this is not the case.

"The Internet and its news and articles are prime sources of information for them," he said. "As more countries legalise marijuana, the perception of it being as safe as alcohol and nicotine grows."

In the United States, the sale of recreational marijuana is allowed in four states and the District of Columbia. Eighteen other states allow its sale for medicinal use, although legalisation remains a hot-button issue.

Like Jack, cannabis users tend to be from households of middle or high socio-economic status and do well in school, based on findings released by the Task Force on Youths and Drugs last year. Many have strong parental support, with their parents having no history of drug use.

Ms Liew said "a handful of users" tried cannabis overseas, for instance, when studying there, and continued their habit when they return.

One 23-year-old university student told The Sunday Times that he smoked cannabis up to six times in the last six months while in the Netherlands and Germany. He did not think it was a "big deal".

He said alcohol and cannabis have "many similarities". Besides, he argued, "nicotine also creates addiction. And smoking itself has many harmful effects and is legal".

Jack also did not believe that there was anything wrong with cannabis. "I used to have ADD and I (found out through research) that cannabis helps to make people calm and relaxed," he said.


But experts here say cannabis is harmful. "Its use has been linked to impairments in teenage brain development, and cognitive decline with a drop in IQ," said the CNB in a statement earlier last week.

A smaller group may get addicted psychologically and end up using it daily, added Dr Winslow. They could suffer from amotivational syndrome, in which people withdraw from society, and paranoia, he said. Daily or heavy use can also induce schizophrenia-like symptoms with potential long-term damage.

Cannabis is often seen as a "gateway drug" that drug abusers start with before moving on to other substances.

This could lead to worse drug use and so, the perception that it is safe is not helpful, Dr Winslow said.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is a crime for Singaporeans and permanent residents to take banned drugs, even if they do it overseas. They can be subjected to a urine test when they return to detect illegal substances, which can stay in the body for up to months.

Jack, the youngest of four siblings, admitted that it is "not worth it" to continue smoking cannabis here because of Singapore's zero-tolerance policy. "I also don't want to disappoint my family again."

Still, he said he would consider using cannabis if overseas.


The CNB said that preventive education remains its first line of defence. It has produced an anti-drug toolkit for educators and counsellors, and will soon have similar ones for parents and national service commanders.

Still, many counsellors believe schools and parents need to be more proactive in confronting the problem. Ms Shakila Kresinin, a senior counsellor at Sana, said schools should "create awareness of the substance and the dangers".

"Most youth will not easily accept the fact that the drug is dangerous and will slow down the thinking process," she said. "But we need to hear their views and challenge them, if necessary, with the guidance of the teachers."

Said Mr Christopher de Souza, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law: "To decriminalise the recreational consumption of cannabis is a foolish proposal. It entrenches a higher tolerance for drugs in community."

"Singapore must resist such trends even if other countries slip," he said. "The law must act as a pincer by deterring both trafficking and consumption - both the supply and the demand elements of the offence."

70% - Nearly 70 per cent of new drug abusers arrested last year were below 30, based on Central Narcotics Bureau statistics.

252 - Number of new drug cases seen by National Addictions Management Service last year involving people aged below 30, compared with 136 in 2014.

13 - Average number of young people the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association has been dealing with each month since last November. Between January and July last year, it saw only about four such cases on average each month.

Jailed, caned and divorced because of his drug addiction
By Seow Bei Yi, The Sunday Times, 21 Feb 2016

He started smoking cannabis at the age of 11 - and continued to do so for more than two decades.

Now, 43-year-old Joe Tan, a care worker in a halfway house, says drugs cost him "everything".

His first puff was with friends in a lion dance group he belonged to. They pooled their money to buy the drug, smoking it every day using a modified apparatus.

"We often mixed it with tobacco," he told The Sunday Times. "We didn't think it was a big deal."

In 1990, the death penalty was extended to trafficking and importing more than 500g of cannabis.

In his late teens, Mr Tan was caught for possession of the drug and fined $1,000.

However, that did not stop his drug habit.

High on pills, he was with a group of friends who tried to rob a taxi driver. They were nabbed and he was sentenced to two years' jail and six strokes of the cane.

He was 19 then. Still, he did not give up his drug habit.

"I continued smoking cannabis once or twice a week, and moved on to Ice, Ecstasy and ketamine.

In his mid-20s, he got married, and the couple had three children.

"My wife knew about my addiction. She became very concerned when a good friend of mine, who was involved in drugs, killed himself," he said. "She would throw my drugs away, but I picked them out of the bin the next day."

He would spend up to hundreds of dollars a day on drugs. His wife warned that she would leave him if he did not stop, but he "could no longer do without the drugs".

They divorced. At 39, Mr Tan was arrested for possession and consumption of drugs including Ice, ketamine and cannabis. He was sentenced to 41/2 years' jail.

"After I lost so much, I realised that I was all alone. If I didn't change now, when would I?"

He attended chapel service while in prison, and was placed in halfway house Teen Challenge for the last six months of his sentence in 2013.

After serving his sentence, he cut ties with his old friends.

He now works at Teen Challenge, helping to handle its operations.

His former wife sends him photos of their children,who are now aged between nine and 15.

He regrets his drug taking.

He said: "You must always think of the consequences. You'll lose your loved ones and hurt your body... nothing good will come out of it."

Ah Boys to Men actor Noah Yap was sentenced to 9 months in the detention barracks by the SAF for consuming cannabis.
Posted by The Straits Times on Thursday, March 3, 2016

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