More young, educated drug-takers now: Sana

SINGAPORE - In the past two years, the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (Sana) has seen younger as well as more well-educated people turn to synthetic drugs, said its executive director Lim Poh Quee.

"Economic and social backgrounds do not seem to be a barrier for drug-taking any more," he said yesterday, when updating the media about Sana's plans.

Unlike most drug users who come from low-income, dysfunctional backgrounds, these people come from wealthy families, and buying the drugs is not a problem for them.

The reasons proffered by members of the new demographic on why they turn to drugs include boredom, stress, the desire for quick weight loss, and the belief that they will not get addicted, said Mr Lim.

There was a lawyer who took drugs because she wanted to be a high-flier in her law firm and was stressed from trying to keep up.

Another was a man who owned a BMW, and took drugs out of boredom.

This emerging pattern presents a new challenge for Sana, a voluntary welfare agency that rehabilitates drug addicts. It marks its 40th anniversary this year.

Its core work is in preventive drug education, aftercare counselling and programmes, and post-aftercare support programmes and services. It takes in between 500 and 600 cases yearly.

Drug abusers are getting younger too, said Mr Lim.

One client that Sana saw this year said he began taking cannabis at the age of just nine. He moved on to heroin when he was 15, and was finally arrested in 2006. He is 27 this year.

It has been reported that the number of arrests of new drug abusers aged below 20 increased sharply last year from 2010, rising to 225 from 155. This number is the highest since 2000.

Mr Lim said many of these young drug abusers are opting for synthetic drugs such as ketamine and methamphetamine, or Ice. These are stimulants, which cause the abusers to become violent, he said.

"I don't envy the Central Narcotics Bureau officers. Their work is becoming more dangerous (with more of such addicts)," he said.

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Mr Lim said Sana has taken these emerging trends into consideration, and has tweaked its programmes accordingly.

An example is its post-aftercare programme set up last year, to increase the success rate of its clients who can keep off drugs for two years or more.

Since its introduction, Mr Lim said, the success rate has gone up from about 40 per cent of cases in 2010 to 64 per cent last year, while this year's success rate is 86 per cent.

In January this year, it also restructured its Drug Abuse Prevention Committees - comprising grassroots leaders and volunteers - into six clusters, for greater effectiveness in preventive drug outreach efforts.

Other plans include setting up a round-the-clock hotline and a centre where recovering drug addicts can talk to trained counsellors. Mr Lim is proposing these at a start-up cost of $1 million.

While Sana already has a helpline, it operates only on weekdays until 6pm. Mr Lim hopes that the 24/7 hotline will aid more people, especially when they have drug cravings at night.

He also has plans to provide skills and training for spouses of drug offenders, so that they can find work. When the family of a client has adequate support, it helps prevent offenders' children from taking to drugs, he said.

He could not confirm when these would be ready. While he floated the idea of the 24/7 hotline in March this year, he has yet to get any funding confirmation from those he has approached.

"I'm still waiting for people to say 'yes'. Our search for funding is perpetual," he said.

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