Older, bolder and all the wiser

SINGAPORE - He has been part of the drug statistics for most of his life.

The below-20 age group, 20-to-29 group, the 30-to-39 group and, before he kicked the habit in late 2000, the 40-and-older group.

The oldest group of drug abusers arrested has gone up sharply, according to figures released by the Central Narcotics Bureau.

In the first half of last year, 754 drug abusers arrested were at least 40 years old.

But in the same period this year, 826 were arrested, an increase of 72 cases.

For Mr Chua Hai Leong, 52, the dry statistics mask a life of pain.

He became an addict at the age of 13 and resorted to robbery to pay for his habit.

He was jailed three times and caned a total of 20 strokes over the years.

After his fourth arrest, this time for drug abuse, he was sent to a drug rehabilitation centre.

By then, he had already spent almost 12 years of his life behind bars. His mother, aware of his heroin addiction, begged him to quit.

Said Mr Chua: "I felt like I was lying to my mother when I promised her I'd quit."

Fortunately, the 18-month rehabilitation programme at Breakthrough Missions halfway house, where he was sent to in late 2000, worked.

Giving back

Giving back

Mr Chua is now drug-free and helping out at the place that saved his life.

Although the number for the 40-and-older age group has gone up, age isn't an indicator on who takes drugs, experts say.

"Drugs cut across all ages," said Dr Thomas Lee, a consultant psychiatrist and substance abuse counsellor at The Resilienz Mind Psychological Medicine and Counselling Centre.

Addiction specialist Winslow Rasaiah Munidasa agreed.

"(Drug addiction) is difficult at any age," said Dr Winslow.

But while one's tendency to take drugs doesn't change with age, those aged 40 and above are more likely to shake off their drug addiction.

Said Dr Winslow: "Those aged 40 and above are more motivated to quit than young drug abusers.

"They realise that life with drugs isn't doing them any good and that they're not getting any younger."

The same thought went through MrChua's mind when he joined Breakthrough Missions home in his final attempt to kick his heroin addiction.

He was tired of a habit that had cut him off from his family.

Said Mr Chua: "I was irresponsible and left them when they needed me most. "I almost gave up on myself, too."

He now goes to prison regularly to counsel to drug abusers serving their time.

He said: "Many of those who are still serving their time in prison recognise me. They tell me that I look like I'm a changed man.

"And I always tell them this: If I can do it, so can you."


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