Dangers of drug addiction: S'pore man shares how it tore his family apart

Fresh start: Seeing his daughters when they first visited him in jail made Jerry cry, pushing him to strive for a clean life ahead.
PHOTO: Dangers of drug addiction: S'pore man shares how it tore his family apart

SINGAPORE - Drugs brought them together and then tore their family apart.

When they met in 2001, he was an 18-year-old drug addict and pusher. She was his 16-year-old customer.

It was not love at first sight. Although he found her attractive, he was too much into drugs at the time.

As fate would have it, they bumped into each other four years later.

By then they had been in and out of jail - twice in her case.

By the following year, they were married. Two children, both girls, followed.

The couple, whom we shall call Jerry and Jane, kept clean until 2009, when they got hooked again.

And so began their downward spiral, ignoring their kids who were begging and crying for their parents who were only intent only on getting high.

Their wake-up call came in 2010 when they were caught for drug abuse and sent back to jail.

Jerry, who is now out, is waiting for his wife's release so they can rebuild their lives with their children, now aged seven and five. The car dealer, 31, knows that there can be no more second chances.

It is either lose the drugs or lose the family, he told The New Paper.

Recalling how he met his wife, he said: "Somebody gave her my number as she wanted to buy drugs. I found her very pretty, but I didn't date her. I was so caught up with drugs that I didn't think about girls - just drugs."

A year after the couple met, Jerry was arrested by Central Narcotics Bureau officers during a drug transaction.

He was sentenced to four years and four months in jail and given three strokes of the cane.

After his release in 2005, he bumped into Jane while clubbing.

They started dating and got married the following year, then moved into their own flat in 2007, the same year they had their first child. Jerry was then a sales engineer, earning $4,000 a month.

The couple managed to stay clean at first and had another daughter in 2009.

Falling into habit

Not long after, Jerry met an old friend, who got him hooked on ketamine again. He took the drugs home and the couple started consuming them together.

Jerry said they took ketamine up to 10 times a day and spent about $100,000 on the drug until their arrests in 2010.

After getting high, the couple would step out of their bedroom to attend to their children or have their meals before returning to the room to take even more ketamine.

Often, they would just ignore their children.

Jerry said their elder daughter, who was a toddler then, would often bang on the door, crying for them.

He said: "I remember she would bang loudly and cry, 'Papa! Mama!' But we just kept the door locked and ignored her."

Fortunately, his mother-in-law was living with them at the time. Otherwise, the little girl and her newborn sister would have been left on their own.

This went on for about a year.

Then, in 2010, they were heading home after visiting his mother for breakfast when a patrol car stopped their car at around 10am in Jurong.

Jerry said he had taken some ketamine before driving.

"Until now, I don't know why we were stopped. I thought my driving was steady that day. Looking back, maybe it was not. That's why I was stopped. I can't say for sure," he said.

"The officers checked us and found a packet of ketamine in my wife's wallet."

They were arrested and later convicted of drug consumption.

It was Jerry's second drug-related offence and he was jailed for three years.

However, it was his wife's third drug conviction.

As a result, she faced a long-term imprisonment (LT) regime and was jailed for five years.

LT regime is reserved for recalcitrant drug abusers (see report on right) and Jane will only be released in September next year.

Jerry said his mother-in-law, a businesswoman, had to take care of their daughters when they were in jail.

"She would come with my daughters for tele-visits (a service which allows visitors to see and talk to an inmate through television via tele-conferencing technology). I cried during the first tele-visit because I felt like I had neglected my girls," he said.

"They often asked me, 'Papa, when are you coming home?' and I lied that I was busy at work. It really broke my heart."

Following his release two months ago, Jerry has had to report for urine tests once a week.

He told TNP that he has sworn off drugs for good.

He said: "I'm just waiting for my wife to be released next year so we can be a complete, happy family once again."

Experts can help, but personal resolve needed

Former drug abusers must have the resolve to turn over a new leaf before others can help them do so.

Otherwise, any well-meaning help would be useless, experts told The New Paper.

Madam Loh Kim Hwee, who manages Watchman's Home halfway house at Upper Changi Road North, said: "They can get all the external help they need, but these will be of no use if they don't want to change for the better. It's all up to the individual."

She said some drug offenders return to their old habit as they do not have goals in life.

"They don't think about the future and often end up being bored and jobless. They will then mix with their old friends and take drugs again."

Mr Freddy Wee, the deputy director of Breakthrough Missions, which also runs a halfway house, agreed.

"Former offenders need to be equipped with the proper skills on how to reject drugs and keep themselves occupied so that they don't return to their old habits," he said.

His halfway house, at Yew Siang Road in Pasir Panjang, can accommodate 70 men and is now about half full.

He said there is enough space at halfway houses island-wide that former offenders can go to for help.

Madam Loh, whose facility can accommodate 33 men and now has 25 residents, felt the same way.

"As a halfway house, we will definitely try our best to help those who come to us," she said.

About the long-term (LT) imprisonment regime

Introduced in 1998, it is reserved for recalcitrant drug abusers.

First- and second-time abusers will undergo a regime in drug rehabilitation centres.

Those arrested the third time or more will face the LT regime.

They will be sentenced to between five and seven years' jail. Men will be given three to six strokes of the cane.

Those who relapse after undergoing this programme will be sentenced to a more severe LT regime.

They will be jailed for between seven and 13 years and the men will receive six to 12 strokes of the cane.

From 2012 to this year, about 3,000 LT offenders have been released.

Drug abusers on the rise

Number of drug abusers arrested:

2013: 3,581 2012: 3,507 2011: 3,326 2010: 2,887

Number of repeat abusers:

2013: 2,471 2012: 2,415 2011: 2,198 2010: 1,560

Three most commonly abused drugs in 2013

Number of abusers

Heroin: 2,062 Methamphetamine: 1,231 Cannabis: 186

Three most commonly abused drugs in 2012

Number of abusers

Heroin: 2,239 Methamphetamine: 1,022 Cannabis: 142

Three most commonly abused drugs in 2011

Number of abusers

Heroin: 1,924 Methamphetamine: 1,157 Cannabis: 127

This article was first published on July 17, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.