Thursday, 6 April 2017

Strengthening Singapore's fight against drugs: Parliamentary Debate on Drugs, 4 Apr 2017

New anti-drug strategy to meet rising challenges
More young addicts, threat of more potent substances available online among concerns
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2017

A new wave of younger, better-educated addicts, more potent psychoactive substances that could be made available online and a region flush with the supply of drugs have made it necessary for the Government to review its strategy for the war on drugs, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament said yesterday.

In its arsenal will be possibly new legislation as well as new ways to reach out to young people, with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) launching a new United Against Drugs Coalition later this month.

One thing that will not change - Singapore's tough stand on drugs and the death penalty for traffickers, especially amid international pressure to decriminalise drugs.

Mr Shanmugam called for the anti-drug fight to be made a "national priority" as he responded to a motion tabled by Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) in Parliament on drug issues.

The growing number of young addicts was a top concern. He said more than 350 students have been caught for drug abuse over the past three years. Also, 70 professionals and managers were arrested for such offences last year, dispelling the notion that it was a problem that affected only certain segments of the community.

The risk of a new generation of drug abusers stems from changing attitudes among the youth, who think that drugs are cool and that cannabis is not addictive.

"The situation can again become more troublesome even if it doesn't get out of control," he said.

Providing more details, the Home Affairs Ministry said 151 Singaporeans and permanent residents studying in primary to tertiary public educational institutions were caught for drug offences last year, up from 83 in 2014. The number of professionals or managers caught rose from 49 in 2014 to 70 last year.

Mr Shanmugam added that drug offenders were responsible for 12 per cent of 32,964 non-drug crimes committed last year and that some 83 per cent of the prison population have histories of substance abuse, though some may have committed a crime not related to drugs.

To tackle the trends of younger abusers and online drug buying, Mr De Souza called for regular reviews to the Misuse of Drugs Act - in particular, making drug crimes involving the use of the Internet a unique offence.

Mr Shanmugam said the authorities will be reviewing the strategy and be more targeted in the fight against drugs to differentiate between those who supply drugs and those who consume them, employing data and a science-based approach.

This comes as South-east Asia is the fastest-growing market for methamphetamine. The global conversation now is also "about a softer stance on drugs". "Seductive arguments, using pseudo science and glamorising drugs," he said.

Among 10 other MPs who spoke in support of the motion yesterday was Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who recounted how her 18-year-old son, while studying in a polytechnic, was offered marijuana by his friends, who seemed to think it was not a big deal.

But the most spirited part of the debate was on the death penalty, with two MPs speaking against it.

Death penalty 'a powerful deterrent'
By Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2017

Information from drug couriers has helped nab almost 90 traffickers since 2012, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday, as he defended the use of the death penalty for drug cases as a powerful deterrent against drug kingpins operating here.

He dismissed arguments by Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun and MP Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) against capital punishment, saying they should focus on the victims instead of "just crying with the people in the death row".

Mr Kok argued that "however much trust we have in our system... mistakes are unavoidable" and once execution takes place, "mistakes made cannot be corrected". Mr Yam said "the ultimate perpetrators... are often not the ones standing frightened at the gallows".

Pointing to the opioid crisis in America, Mr Shanmugam said the scourge causes 33,000 deaths a year. "For those with bleeding hearts... they should think about these 33,000 deaths. What percentage do you want in Singapore?"

He cited the 2006 murder of two- year-old Nurasyura, known as Nonoi, whose stepfather, a drug abuser, dunked her into a pail because he could not stand her crying. In 2009,six-year-old Edy was dumped in the Kallang River by a drug user who was caring for him while his parents were in jail for drugs.

"Those who think we should go soft on drugs... what is your solution to the thousands of Edys and Nonois around the world who are neglected, abused and suffering?"

He added: "In public policymaking, you need a soft heart, you need compassion, and that is what defines a civilised human being, but you can never have a soft head. If the heart alone rules policy, you are done for."

MPs outline ways to strengthen Singapore's fight against drugs
One way: Base penalties on drugs' potential for harm, not just the weight
By Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2017

As drugs can be mixed with other substances to increase their potency and addictiveness, this potential for harm should be taken into consideration when determining penalties for drug offences, and not simply their weight, Mr Christopher De Souza (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) said yesterday.

Tabling a motion in Parliament on strengthening Singapore's fight against drugs - for which 10 MPs spoke in support - Mr De Souza outlined this as one of several ways to improve the Misuse of Drugs Act.

He also called for the Act to be regularly reviewed to ensure that it has the "legal muscle it needs" to deter supply and demand of controlled substances.

Mr De Souza, who is the chairman of the Home Affairs and Law Government Parliamentary Committee and a lawyer, noted that in the United States, heroin has been mixed with elephant tranquilliser to create a deadly mixture that has caused many to overdose.

"This contamination is driven by greed - more effect, with lower cost to produce," he said.

His second suggestion was to incorporate controlled drugs more quickly under the First Schedule, which lists the most harmful and addictive drugs and attracts the most severe penalties. A swift reaction is needed as syndicates are constantly attempting to come up with new types of substances, added Mr De Souza.

Third, the sale of drugs over the Internet should be made a unique offence, attracting a higher penalty, as should recruiting people online to traffic in drugs.

This proposal follows a spike in the number of people arrested for buying drugs and related paraphernalia online. According to the Central Narcotics Bureau, the figure rose from 30 in 2015 to 201 last year. Significantly more young abusers - aged under 30 - have also been arrested since 2014, said Mr De Souza.

With more youth experimenting with drugs and the Internet able to facilitate sales, Singapore should consider how to legislate an aggravated offence if social media or the Internet is used to procure sales, he said.

"This may deter drug traffickers from using the Internet to advertise sales, potentially leading to reduced drug sales to youth," he said.

Mr De Souza also proposed a different tier of punishment for traffickers who target abusers under 30, as well as those who use the Internet to do so. "The Internet" could mean websites, social media and mobile apps such as WhatsApp, he said.

Other MPs stressed the need to focus on rehabilitation on top of enforcement, suggesting initiatives to help tackle drug abuse in schools, communities and families.

Nominated MP Kok Heng Leun suggested using the arts, such as drama, to occupy inmates' minds. This could help them spend less time thinking of ways to beat the system, and more time thinking about what they can do for others.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) suggested adapting innovative ways of preventive drug education. In some kindergartens in Germany, for example, children are placed in a toy-free environment for a short period of time to strengthen them against addictive behaviour.

Responding to Mr De Souza's motion, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the Government was reviewing its strategy on the war on drugs.

In arguing for a tough stance, MPs stressed the impact of drugs on families, among other issues.

Mr De Souza noted, for example, that 15g of diamorphine feeds about 180 abusers for a week. This translates to about 900 people affected if each addict has four family members.

He said: "That is equivalent to about 30 platoons. If a person ran towards 30 platoons with a grenade, should not a lethal shot be fired to protect the 900 people?"

Singapore studying best practices overseas, building anti-drug coalition
By Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib and Seow Bei Yi, The Straits Times, 5 Apr 2017

Singapore is studying efforts by Finland and Iceland in getting their youth away from drugs, and in shaping and presenting messages in ways they find acceptable and accessible, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

He also said the Government has been "taking an active profile internationally" and creating a "coalition of countries... which take the view that each country should decide on its drug laws", as Singapore seeks to fend off international pressure to decriminalise drugs.

Mr Shanmugam was outlining in a recent interview how Singapore adopts best practices and avoids bad practices from other countries in its fight against drugs, as latest data showed new worrying trends.

Close to two-thirds of the 1,347 new drug abusers arrested last year were aged below 30, according to Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) numbers. The number of people arrested for buying drugs and drug- related paraphernalia online rose from 30 in 2015 to 201 last year - more than a six-fold increase.

These are major areas of concern in Singapore's fight against narcotics, said Mr Shanmugam, adding that as generations change, it needs to keep the anti-drug message attractive, accessible and relevant.

He said: "Today's young people are different from yesterday's young people. The way they access information is different. What they consider to be attractive, what they consider to be cool, is different. So we have to shape the message and present it in a form that they find acceptable and they find accessible."

Mr Shanmugam added that some models around the world have worked well in educating young people about drugs.

One such country is Finland. Its Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said on its website that a multidisciplinary approach to drug prevention and early intervention is particularly important for young people.

This involves preventing drug use through school and student welfare teams, which collaborate with parents, substance abuse services, social workers, youth services and the police. Its efforts seem to have paid off. Young people in Finland reportedly use less alcohol and illegal drugs than their European counterparts on average.

Yesterday in Parliament, Mr Shanmugam said Singapore would also be studying Iceland's anti-drug efforts, which adopt a youth-centric approach that has helped lower the proportion of 15- and 16-year-old cannabis abusers from 17 per cent to 7 per cent between 1998 and last year.

Similarly in Singapore, efforts have been made to better reach out to members of the public, especially young people. For example, the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association announced on March 24 that it is offering new services to tackle the drug threat - top of which is an online counselling service. The portal went online the following day with information on drugs and drug abuse, and the consequences.

Although education remains Singapore's first line of defence in the fight against drugs locally, calls to decriminalise drugs internationally are also a cause for concern.

Mr Shanmugam said: "So we have been taking an active profile internationally, creating a coalition of countries, a network of countries which take the view that each country should decide on its drug laws.

"It is good that there are other countries that say, in their own experience, it is better that we keep it criminalised, to make drugs freely available is worse for society."

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore has to take a tough anti-drug stance because it is what a responsible government would do. Stressing that narcotics are harmful and can cause a lot of damage, he added that a rise in other acts of crime can also be attributed to drug abuse.

"With those facts, a responsible government will then say, I need to then limit the problem, roll it back, so that my young people do not get into this habit, and my society is safe," he said.

Malay groups roll out programmes to give help
By Shaffiq Idris Alkhatib, The Sunday Times, 16 Apr 2017

Malay-Muslim groups in Singapore are gearing up to tackle the drug problem within the community head on. Several have rolled out new programmes to further assist Malay drug offenders and their families.

These new initiatives come at a critical time.

At an annual seminar organised by the the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) on April 1, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said about 53 per cent of drug abusers arrested last year were Malay, up from 32 per cent in 2006. The proportion of new Malay drug abusers has also gone up to 54 per cent last year, from 22 per cent in 2006.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said he welcomes the community's efforts to address the problem and would like to see more young people reaching out to their peers to ensure they do not abuse drugs.

Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information, added: " I think what we need to do is to reach out to the young, families especially, families with young children and families from difficult circumstances. We know most of them will have problems at home and that is why they turn to drugs.

"When we do the outreach programmes, we basically send the message to the families that there are things they can do as parents, there are things they can do as families. We will leave the security part to the agencies. On the part of the community, we have to reach out to our young to make sure they understand that drugs are not the solution, there must be other things they can do as young people."

AMP senior manager Hameet Khanee told The Sunday Times that easy access to narcotics has contributed to the increase in the number of Malay drug abusers.

Highlighting that some drugs are easily available online, she added: "Current awareness programmes and drug prevention campaigns should be enhanced, especially those targeted at schools.

"More effort should go into enhancing the role of the family as the main avenue of support and educator. This is particularly more important for families where both parents are working and supervision is minimal."

In a move to reach out to Malay/Muslim drug offenders who are still behind bars and their families, AMP launched last month its new Development and Reintegration Programme.

Madam Hameet said there are two phases in this initiative. The first one has 10 sessions covering topics on reflection, strengthening families, financial literacy, work-related skills and new beginnings.

These are designed to complement the programmes that are currently being offered by the Singapore Prison Service.

The second phase focuses on after-care, with case work services for inmates and their families.

There are 23 inmates and families in the pilot run. The goal is to support up to 100 inmates and their families over a year.

The Islamic Theological Association of Singapore's (Pertapis) new initiative also focuses on former inmates and their families. The New Spice Up programme launched last year aims to help former abusers reconnect with their families and society through activities like kayaking and abseiling.

Pertapis' deputy head Muhammad Sufian Salim said: "When a former abuser is occupied with more wholesome activities, they will move away from drugs. Through sports, they can also regain their self esteem."

Another non-governmental organisation, Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) has developed a structured programme for Muslim inmates known as "Insan Mukmin" (Faithful Muslim).

Participants of this joint effort between Pergas, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Malay self-help group Mendaki will attend 14 sessions of religious counselling while serving their sentences in Changi Prison. When they are released, they will attend after-care programmes made up of five sessions of religious counselling at Khalid Mosque in Joo Chiat Road.

Twenty-four inmates participated in this initiative in its pilot last year.

A Pergas spokesman said: "We hope that by the end of the Insan Mukmin programme, participants will be rekindled with the practices and religious values of Islam and continue their knowledge-seeking journey to enhance their faith towards becoming a better believer."

As some of these initiatives involve both the drug offenders and their loved ones, the battle against drugs can now be fought together as a family unit.

Mr Sufian said that when inmates do not have healthy coping strategies to cope with a crisis, they will channel their emotions in an undesirable direction which could breach the law. "For example, an inmate who is released from prison and is unable to secure a place to stay may be in a dilemma. Due to lack of proper guidance and referrals, he may seek help from his ex-peers who are high-risk offenders. Sharing the same roof with these ex-peers will raise the risk of re-offending for the freshly released inmates."

One of the some 70 residents of Pertapis' halfway house, who wanted to be known only as Mr Ahmad, agreed and felt that the company one keeps could make or break a person.

He said he was just 14 years old when he tried drugs for the first time. Back then, he used to hang around with a group of boys around his age and they introduced him to cannabis.

The bachelor, now 44, said: "I didn't want to be left out and took a puff. I was soon hooked on the drug." That one puff of cannabis marked the start of his lifelong battle against drugs.

Mr Ahmad had been in and out of drug rehabilitation centres and prison three times for narcotics-related offences.

He was last caught for drug trafficking about seven years ago and is now serving part of that sentence in the halfway house.

Looking back, Mr Ahmad said: "I've stopped hanging around with those guys and realised family support is very important in helping me turn over a new leaf."

Standing firm against pressure to soften stance on drugs
Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam set out how Singapore is strengthening its fight against drugs during a debate in Parliament on Tuesday. Below is an excerpt of his speech.
The Straits Times, 6 Apr 2017

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimated that in 2014, there were nearly 250 million drug abusers in the world and 200,000 died from drug-related causes.

The global conversation is about a softer stance on drugs. Seductive arguments, using pseudo-science and glamourising drugs. They do create a challenging environment for us to keep Singapore drug-free. But if you look at evidence, if you look at the US, for opioid abuse, the prescriptions went up threefold since 1999, fuelled by people relying on and accepting questionable evidence that these are benign pain remedies. And because of diversions and misuse, thousands get hooked onto it and then guess what happens? They move on to heroin. Now you get - as The New York Times published - 33,000 deaths per year, 90 a day.

For those with bleeding hearts who talk about the inmates on death row, I think they should think about these 33,000 deaths. What percentage do you want in Singapore? What about their families, their children? Why not spend some time with them, rather than just crying with the people on the death row?

The same arguments that were used to try and get opioids allowed are now being used for cannabis legislation. The arguments if you look at them - evocative but little clinical evidence.

I said at the United Nations, I do not want human rights groups preaching to me about the medical value of cannabis. If a respectable medical association is prepared to tell me that this ought to be prescribed as medicine, we will look at it. But what did the American Medical Association say? That there is inconclusive evidence for this.

Now, science is always evolving, and if science evolves to a different stage, we are practical people and we rely on facts. But today, this is the science.

Even when we go to these international conferences, the NGOs which support legalisation come out with brochures which are glitzy, which are very attractive, evocative. They are all financed by the pharmaceutical companies. Those who oppose legalisation, those who take a stand similar to Singapore's, if you look at the material you would not want to look at them again because no one is financing them. There is a huge commercial motive for legalisation and that is driving this in many countries. There are other factors. Many countries have lost the fight. They cannot control domestic drug abuse and so after having lost tens of thousands of lives, they move to focusing on public health issues - HIV.

So you gather an alliance with commercial interests and countries saying we cannot handle this anymore. They are now saying, let us create a new international norm. Well, I do not have a problem if they change their rules. But I do have a problem if they want to change international norms and say every country should follow that. We will not be pressured. That is the international situation.


What is the local situation? We have some challenges. The first challenge is increased supply. We are near the Golden Triangle, which is the second-largest opium source in the world. And Afghanistan has become a major producer. In order to get its stock to the West, sometimes, or quite often, they seem to want to take the route through South-east Asia.

Our region is the fastest growing methamphetamine market. We are a major transport hub. Two hundred million people go through our shores - airports, shores, land checkpoints. Because of the wealth factor, our people can pay. Therefore, it is an attractive destination, both as a transhipment and as a destination source. That is one major challenge.

The second major challenge is drug peddling sales online. You can have anonymous transactions. You can have parcels coming in from any part of the world. That creates a challenge.

We also face a challenge from new drugs - new psychoactive substances where people take drugs and mix them with contaminants to lower the cost. There are rogue chemists who modify pharmaceuticals. Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), for example, in the past two years, has seized more than 3.5kg and 4,000 tablets of New Psychoactive Substances, which have been falsely marketed as both being legal and safe.

Another separate challenge is the new attitudes of our young people. There is a certain perception, glamourised through media, and outside of this country, that drugs are cool and cannabis is non-addictive. If we are not careful, they can become our next generation of abusers.

And there is a changing profile of abusers. Last year, 40 per cent of those who were arrested for abuse were less than 30 years old. They are mixed - they are students, professionals, people who are well-educated, good jobs, new groups of Singaporeans trying drugs. Parents may think it is not their children. But in the past three years, we have picked up more than 350 students. All levels - from primary schools to tertiary - and all backgrounds, with as well as without, a background of substance abuse in the family. Working professionals - last year, more than 70 in professional jobs, managers, including accountants and engineers.

Drug abusers committed 12 per cent of other crimes. That is another worrying statistic. Eighty-three per cent of those in our prison are in there for either substance abuse, or they have a history of substance abuse even though the particular crime they committed was not related to drugs. So you can see how much drugs can impact our lives. It destroys you. These are all statistics, facts.

Let me give you an example of what it does. They call him "Edy" - a young boy, six years old. Both parents jailed for drugs. He happened to be in the care of another person called Johan. Johan was also a drug abuser. It forms an ecosystem, a separate subculture. Johan slapped Edy around, stomped on him repeatedly, a six-year-old boy, and killed him. He dumped his body by the Kallang River.

You know there are thousands of such cases, not in Singapore, but around the world. Most of you might have heard of "Noinoi". She had a stepfather - Johari - abusing cannabis, cough syrups. He brought her home as a shield to hide his own abuse. He thought that having her there with him would prevent detection. She was only two years old. She was crying and he could not take it. He dumped her in a pail and killed her.

Those who think we should go soft on drugs, on punishment, what is your solution to the thousands of "Edys" and "Noinois" around the world, who are neglected, abused and suffering?


We will maintain a tough stance, and we will step up. We will review our strategy for the new challenges. It will be targeted, it will differentiate between those who supply and cause harm, versus those who are abusers. Where possible, we will employ a data-based and science-based approach.

1st defence: Preventive drug education

Our first line of defence has got to be education - preventive drug education. So we work, and we have worked for decades, with the Ministry of Education (MOE) - school talks, lesson plans, so that our young people understand.

Our people are going over to Iceland to look at how they send the messages across.

We have to work with parents because the parents are key influencers. The National Council Against Drug Abuse survey shows that if a parent interacts with children about drugs, they talk to their children, the risk that the child will take drugs is much lower. We have produced a parents' toolkit for that.

Young people are also heavily influenced by peer influence and environmental influence. We need to grow a pool of anti-drug advocates amongst their peers, amongst young people's peers. We need volunteers, we need more individuals, we need more organisations, societies, interest groups, businesses.

CNB will launch a United Against Drugs Coalition later this month, and also review the way it puts across messages. We need to mobilise the ground. First, education. Second, effective enforcement and tough laws are part of it.

Last year, CNB crippled 23 syndicates. We have to increase our partnerships with overseas counterparts and we have to tackle the new online supply menace. Keeping our laws effective for deterrence and enforcement is a top priority.

The current survey that I referred to also shows the very strong support for our tough laws. And people want us to be tougher on those who harm society and those who bring drugs in, and those who provided to others, especially young people, those who encourage others. And we will have to study how we deal with these New Psychoactive Substances, how we amend the schedules and what we need to do.

Members spoke about the amendments in 2012 to the mandatory death penalty scheme in the context of drug trafficking. We gave the courts more discretion where the courier is certified to have provided substantial assistance. It has been helpful, the information provided has contributed to the arrests of almost 90 drug traffickers.

What role does the death penalty play in this? It is an important part of our comprehensive anti-drug regime. And as I said, part of the overall approach which would not work on its own, but is a part of an overall set of measures. Good judicial process, rule of law, enforcement, tough laws, education, rehabilitation, and also DRC (Drug Rehabilitation Centre) and LT (Long-Term Imprisonment regime).

Remember, this fight is never won. We are in a difficult situation, being close to drug producing countries and we have maintained the death penalty as deterrence against trafficking. The quantity of drugs that you need to have in your possession before the death penalty kicks in, before the presumption clause kicks in, is enough heroin to supply 180 people for seven days. That is a large amount of drugs, that is a large amount of people whose lives you are willing to destroy, and you multiply that by their family members.

And what is the regional situation? In Malaysia, registered drug abusers numbered 280,000, as reported by The New Straits Times. In Indonesia, 5.9 million drug abusers.

What is the nature of the drug trade today? The financing comes from one country, could be manufactured somewhere in some terrace house somewhere nearby Singapore, and couriers are easily available because they want to make some money.

Do you believe the death penalty has some deterrent value? If you are somewhere outside Singapore, maybe Malaysia or Indonesia, and if you knew that the likelihood of being caught is pretty high and that if you are caught with that amount of drugs, you are most likely to face the death penalty, does that or does that not amount to deterrence? It is a matter of common sense. Why do you think the drug kingpins are not in Singapore?

Just remember that trafficking is a cold, calculated offence. It is a transaction. The person decides to take a risk with his life when he comes to Singapore for the sake of money. So do not tell me that they are poor, impecunious and desperate. They make a calculation. They do not mind impacting the lives of 180 people each time.

2nd defence: Effective enforcement, tough laws

In the early 1990s, we were arresting between 6,000 and 7,000 people per year. Today, we are arresting between 2,000 and 3,000 per year. Even if you take the lower end of the figures, 3,000 now and 6,000 then. That is 3,000 less per year over a 20-year period and assuming it came down, you are talking about tens of thousands - maybe forty, fifty thousand lives saved because our enforcement ability has not gone down. We are arresting less people. That means our demand for drugs has gone down. Every person not arrested, who has not become an abuser, is a life saved. So we have saved maybe forty, maybe fifty thousand lives, maybe more.

If all things were equal between the 1990s and today, we were arresting six to seven thousand then, the number should be higher now, right, since we are wealthier now and the drug production has increased and it has become more of a multinational enterprise. So perhaps it should have doubled, we should be arresting about 18,000. But we are actually arresting less people. We have saved lives.

In public policymaking, you need a soft heart. You need compassion and that is what defines a civilised human being. But you can never have a soft head. If the heart alone rules policy, you are done for. As Minister for Home Affairs, I don't have the right to give effect to any suggestion which I believe will harm thousands of people and ruin our society. In fact, it is my duty to do the reverse.

Support for our penalties amongst our population, as you know, as Members know, is very high. Reach did a poll last year. Eighty per cent supported retaining the death penalty. Ten per cent wanted to abolish it. Ten per cent had no position or refused to answer. Eighty-two per cent agreed that it was an important deterrent to keep Singapore safe from serious crimes. National University of Singapore (NUS) conducted a survey on public opinion in 2016. Again, even in their survey, public support for the death penalty was very high. Seventy per cent of the respondents were in favour.

But asked specifically what the penalty should be for intentional murder, trafficking illegal drugs, and discharging a firearm, the proportion in favour of the death penalty was even higher, ranging from 86 per cent to 92 per cent. But the NUS survey also presented a nuanced picture of public support for the death penalty. The support dropped when this question was asked - that if it can be shown that the death penalty was no more effective as a deterrent to others like life imprisonment, or a very long prison sentence, that means it is not effective, you can substitute it with something else - if you ask people that question, the support then drops. When it suggested that innocent people could have been executed, then the support drops.

If a certain framework is put into the question, and you get a number and you come to the Government and say change your policy, we have to look at the questions you asked. But in any event, this is one of those areas where the Government has the duty to assess the facts carefully, the data carefully, and come to the best judgment that it can.

As I have said in public, no government glorifies in having the death penalty or imposing it on anyone. How can anyone be happy about it? If they do it, they do it with a heavy heart. But you do it because of a greater public good. And you do it based on your best judgment and assessment, not on the basis of advice given by people who argue from an ideological point of view. We are not dogmatic about this. We will listen to arguments. We will listen to people. We will listen to anyone with a good point of view, and we will make up our mind.

3rd defence: Rehabilitation

Abusers must be committed to kicking the habit. The incarceration periods are looked at regularly, whether it is for DRC, or whether it is for LT1, LT2. There is a certain reason why we structured it as DRC and then LT1 and LT2. There is some methodology behind it, and we continuously review the methodology. But in the end it has to first serve as a deterrence and second, keep society from being harmed by individuals.

Every abuser has different risk levels and different motivational factors. Our prisons system tailors rehabilitation accordingly. So other programmes include family programmes, skills training, and religious services. For lower risk inmates, they have a day release programme, they go for work or study during the day, minimises disruption. They are placed on community-based programmes to reconnect to the community, to help them transition to normal life. Some are at halfway houses, some go home and community support is instrumental, we recognise that. And since 1995, 15,000 DRC inmates have gone through the community-based programme with an 85 per cent completion rate.

4th defence: Family and community support

There are structured family programmes in prisons, skills to strengthen the bonds, joint sessions with the family. Now I am not saying by all means, any means, that it is perfect and that it cannot be improved or that we are where we want to be. But we have thought about these things, we have introduced these and it continues to be refined, changed, worked on.

Families will also need help. Singapore Prison Service has set up a Family Resource Centre, it's got a Yellow Ribbon community project to encourage families to visit abusers in DRCs. Family relationships are complex, different families, different types of relationships. It requires long-term effort, even after release. So we have volunteers who continue to follow up via Yellow Ribbon community project. We have talked to the Association of Muslim Professionals and they have said they will come in to provide family casework in their new family rehabilitation programme. Let me share a story.

He started abusing drugs in his teens, 20 years. He abused heroin, ice, alcohol. At one point he lost his family support. He couldn't even face himself. Then he went to Pertapis halfway house. Things changed. He was moved and struck by the unwavering support from the staff of Pertapis. He has now been clean for more than two years. And he is paying it forward. He is now the chairman of the family support group for Pertapis. And he strongly believes in not giving up on abusers even when their families have given up on them. He himself has experienced how community support has changed lives.

For young drug abusers, the emphasis has to be on rehabilitation, so that they can have a drug-free life ahead of them. So we have a variety of programmes. If they are below the age of 21, they undergo counselling and casework management for a period of six months, and that's non-residential. If they are of moderate risk, they are then sent to the Community Rehabilitation Centre (CRC). They started operations in 2014 and that allows them to continue with their education and employment in the day with minimal disruption. Higher risk young people who require more intensive rehabilitation, they will be in the DRC. Even in there, we have split it into low risk, moderate risk and high risk and different types of treatment for the three categories.

We also started the Anti-Drug Counselling and Engagement or ACE programme which was started last year for young drug abusers who have confessed to drug abuse but for one reason or another they have tested negative in the urine test. This is a three-month programme and includes counselling and we equip them with skills to cope with their addictions. We keep their parents involved. But two hands need to clap - oftentimes we find that the parents are not willing to come forward. So I've asked my people to consider whether legislatively we can do something, that the parents also have a duty.

On the international front, we don't want to be isolated. Within Asean, members have their domestic situation and they may take different approaches. But they sign up to a stand refusing to accept the legalisation of drugs. They continue to support criminalisation and there's an Asean coalition supporting it and there are a few other countries which adopt the same approach. We cooperate together in the international arena. We have to have a sensible dialogue with others of a different persuasion and perhaps agree that they have their own viewpoint and we have our own viewpoint. Different countries should be allowed to have different viewpoints.

Experts worry as some young people soften stance on drugs
Survey shows 16% of those aged 13 to 21 had a liberal attitude towards drugs last year, up from 11% in 2013
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 28 Apr 2017

As some nations decriminalise cannabis - and some of its supporters extol its virtues - a growing number of young people here are also displaying a more laid-back attitude towards the drug.

About a third of them - 33 per cent - do not even think it is addictive. Even more of them - 35 per cent - think it is popular. Nearly one in eight young people - 12.6 per cent - feels it should be legalised.

The shifting attitudes towards drugs in general were highlighted in a survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA) released yesterday.

The trend worried some experts who felt that, if left unchecked, this could spawn the next generation of drug abusers.

"This means drugs among young people are beginning to be viewed as acceptable and fun, there is no notion of the risks and danger," said addiction specialist Thomas Lee of The Resilienz Clinic.

"Being young, they are also more likely to experiment and might get into drug-abusing habits," he added.

Overall, teenagers and young people here are still strongly against drugs, but the survey showed that the attitudes were softening.

The NCADA Perception Survey 2015/2016 showed that 16 per cent of those aged 13 to 21 had a liberal attitude towards drugs last year, compared with 11 per cent in 2013.

Previously, the study surveyed only people in that age group, but this time the survey was expanded to include those older for a wider range of responses.

The latest survey by NCADA, an advisory council to the Ministry of Home Affairs, polled 2,748 people aged 13 to 30 and 1,212 others aged 31 to 60.

Overall, 81 per cent of those surveyed viewed drugs in a negative light.

But those between 18 and 30, comprising full-time national servicemen, university students and young working adults, displayed more liberal attitudes towards drugs. Statistics have shown that most new abusers are below 30 years old.

Some could have been swayed by popular culture in how they view drugs, especially cannabis.

When probed further in in-depth interviews about cannabis, some of the young respondents also displayed confusion about the drug.

NCADA said this stemmed from online sources which suggested that cannabis had medicinal value.

Young people formed their perceptions on drugs based on what they consumed in the media, the survey found.

Some 68.4 per cent said they had gleaned information about drugs from mass media such as newspapers and radio, while 58 per cent said they obtained it from social media like Facebook. Slightly fewer of them found information about drugs from websites or via preventive drug education efforts.

NCADA chairman Hawazi Daipi cautioned against the softening global attitudes towards drugs.

"We should avoid dichotomising soft drugs and hard drugs because soft drug consumption can lead to hard drug addiction."

He added: "Parents and the public should be aware that the growing number of (drug abuse) victims are young people. While most are still quite conservative in their view of drugs, there is the growing tendency to be more liberal."

Parliamentary Debate on the Motion on Drugs “Strengthening Singapore’s Fight Against Drugs” - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law -5 April 2017
Drug addicts to get online counselling via live chat service

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