Law against designer drugs known to give abusers a 'legal high' takes effect on May 1

SINGAPORE - So-called "legal highs", or synthetic drugs which mimic the effects of controlled drugs like cocaine and heroin, will become as illegal and attract the same penalties from May 1, said the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) on Wednesday.

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Here is the full statement from the CNB:

With effect from May 1, 2014, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) will be listing all the psychoactive substances currently in the Fifth Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), in the First Schedule of the same Act. This would mean that these substances would be re-classified as Class A controlled drugs (see Annex A for the list of Fifth Schedule drugs that will be shifted to the First Schedule).

At the same time, a new list of substances will be placed in the Fifth Schedule of the MDA.


New psychoactive substances (NPS) are today being developed very rapidly across the globe. The Fifth Schedule of the MDA was enacted on 1 May 2013 to allow CNB to control and prevent the proliferation of NPS. NPS can be temporarily listed in the Fifth Schedule for up to 12 months, with a possibility of extension for another 12 months. The Fifth Schedule enables CNB to seize these NPS so that the circulation of such substances can be restricted while research and industry consultation are conducted.

These processes are necessary before a substance is classified as a controlled drug. However, the trafficking, manufacture, import, export, possession or consumption of any substance which is temporarily listed in the Fifth Schedule will not constitute an offence under the MDA, until that substance is removed from the Fifth Schedule and is subsequently listed as a controlled drug in the First Schedule whereupon all these offences will apply.

Most of these new psychoactive substances are produced by introducing slight modifications to the chemical structures of controlled drugs. Many of these addictive substances have effects similar to other Class A drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, MDMA ('Ecstasy') and LSD (lysergamide); and their abuse have been linked to adverse physical and psychological reactions, including paranoia, seizures, hallucinations, and even death. Based on the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2013, many NPS are being used as substitutes for controlled drugs, often being touted as "legal highs" that can be abused without fear of enforcement action. Many countries have also reported the emergence of NPS.

CNB has noted an increase in the number of NPS trafficking and abuse cases detected in the last year. CNB has also completed consultations with the Health Sciences Authority, research institutes and industry stakeholders and they have indicated that there are currently no known medical and industrial uses for these substances. Given these developments and the fact that these substances mimic the effects of harmful Class A drugs, CNB has decided to list all the Fifth Schedule drugs to the First Schedule of the MDA as Class A controlled drugs.

Following the listing of these NPS as Class A controlled drugs, the trafficking, manufacture, import, export, possession or consumption of these substances will constitute an offence under the MDA. Any person found guilty of trafficking Class A controlled drugs will face a minimum of five years' imprisonment and five strokes of the cane. They will also be liable for enhanced penalties if they re-offend or sell to young or vulnerable persons. CNB will also be empowered to subject NPS abusers to supervision, commit them to a drug rehabilitation centre (DRC) for treatment and rehabilitation, or charge them in court.

Mr Ng Ser Song, Director, CNB said: "The drug situation is challenging and the number of repeat drug abusers and young drug abusers remains a concern. With the abuse and trafficking of NPS on the rise, listing these new psychoactive substances as Class A controlled drugs signals our unequivocal stance that these substances are illegal and no different from other controlled drugs."