More women among first-time drug users

SINGAPORE - Women made up a higher proportion of new drug users arrested last year, causing concern to anti-narcotics officials.

One in every five new drug abusers nabbed last year was a woman. The proportion had hovered around 15 per cent annually before that.

Last year, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) arrested 3,326 drug abusers, of whom 439 were women. The number is an increase from the 376 women drug abusers nabbed in 2010 out of a total of 2,887, and 326 out of a total of 2,616 in 2009.

Police statistics showed 225 local women were admitted to the drug rehabilitation centre last year, a jump of 68 per cent compared to the year before. In 2009, the figure was only 100.

Criminal lawyer Ravinderpal Singh of Kalco Law LLC said: "The female drug abusers seem to be getting younger. They are generally in their 20s and 30s, and are involved with drugs like Ecstasy, Ketamine and Erimin.

"Singapore is not the only country experiencing an increase in female drug abusers. With people travelling more today and the borders being more accessible, it could have become easier for drugs to make their way here.

"It could also be something that these abusers have picked up overseas and brought back here."

Another reason is the increasingly liberal attitude towards drugs, said criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam of Hilborne & Co who has seen offenders as young as 16.

"In many instances, women got into drugs because of boyfriends who were already drug abusers, traffickers or involved in some kind of vice activity, like loan-sharking," noted the former senior prison officer.

"Some of these women drug abusers were school dropouts or youths who had run away from home," he said, adding that not all the women abusers arrested were Singaporeans.

"Some came from Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines on social visit passes, mainly to prostitute themselves. Drugs were secondary to them," said Mr Rajan.

In September, CNB and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers arrested two foreign women who tried to smuggle 6.7 kg of Ice worth over $1 million.

In an earlier raid in July, CNB arrested 85 people in a 48-hour islandwide drug bust, of whom 20 were women. FHM cover girl and blogger Celestina Tiew, 22, attracted much buzz online when she was arrested for alleged drug abuse in the same month.

CNB said in its latest Drug Situation Report released in August that it remains concerned about the local drug situation against the backdrop of increasing drug seizures, a worsening regional drug situation and the large number of repeat drug abusers expected to be released over the next few years. In the first half of this year, a total of 30 major operations were conducted.

Meanwhile, the rise in female drug abusers has prompted The Turning Point's administrator, Ms Violet Lim Siew Kiak, to say there is a need for more than one female halfway house to help in the rehabilitation of such offenders.

She said: "Being the only female halfway house, our turnover is quite high. Every month, there will be someone completing her programme here. We could take in only 20 female inmates each year, due to ou limited resources."

Both Mr Rajan and Mr Ravinderpal felt longer imprisonment terms may not be the way to solve the problem but a long and intensive rehabilitation programme would be the way to go.

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