No let-up in anti-drug fight despite fewer abusers

After a record haul last year, the street value of drugs seized in the first half of this year dipped by half. The number of drug abusers who were caught also went down significantly.

But this does not mean it is time to relax the fight against drugs. A Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) spokesman said it was premature to suggest drug use is on a downward trend despite the figures. "The drug abuse situation remains of concern," he stressed.

According to the CNB yesterday, around $4.7 million worth of drugs were seized from January to June. This is 50 per cent less than the figure for the same period last year. Over the whole of 2013, an estimated $20.5 million worth of drugs were seized.

The total number of drug abusers arrested from January to June was 1,524, also marking a fall of around 20 per cent when compared to the same period last year.

There may be abusers who evade local authorities by heading to nearby Malaysia and Indonesia to feed their habits, for instance, said Mr Chia Shih Sheung, chief executive of The Helping Hand, a Christian halfway house for former drug addicts.

Experts also pointed out two areas of worry: Drug users are getting younger, and the growing popularity of cannabis.

About two-thirds of new abusers arrested in the first half of this year were below 30 years of age, a slight increase over last year.

This is despite new laws, introduced in 2012, which punish more severely those who traffic to the young.

"The concern now is younger abusers," said Mr Freddy Wee, deputy director of drug rehab halfway house Breakthrough Mission. He has worked with addicts for 35 years.

"Since about three years ago, we have been seeing more younger people under 30 coming to our programmes.

This could be due to a host of reasons - younger people tend to stay out later and go to nightlife spots where drugs may be available, or more of them are curious to try now."

CNB statistics also showed a growing preference for abusers to start with cannabis.

Among new abusers caught in the first half of this year, 60 cases involved cannabis, compared to 54 over the same period last year.

The drug has been legalised in some parts of the world, including several states in the US, and this could "give the false impression that cannabis is 'less dangerous or addictive' than other drugs", said the CNB spokesman.

"These are gross misunderstandings. Abuse of any type of controlled drug has long-term implications on the abuser, including his... health and mental development, especially if the abuser starts taking drugs from a young age."

The latest figures appear to be promising, but "there is still much work to be done", cautioned Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

"The global drug situation remains challenging, with the production of drugs like heroin and opium rebounding to the high levels seen in previous years," he said.

"Globally... chemically modified substances that mimic the effects of controlled drugs are beginning to flood the market.

They are touted as safe and legal to use, yet there have already been reports of deaths in the overseas media arising from their use."

Prevention is probably the best approach in improving the situation here, said Mr Chia, because drug-taking is a tough habit to quit.

"People always think they can just try, they will never get caught, and can stop easily, but that is hardly the case."

This article was published on Aug 15 in The Straits Times.

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