S'poreans naive about drugs

When substance abuse therapist Tony Tan, 38, heard that there were at least nine deaths last week linked to drug-taking at trendy music and dance festivals, he was not surprised.

Mr Tan, a Singaporean counsellor at rehabilitation centre The Cabin in Thailand, says that drug-taking was viewed as immoral in the past, but is seen as a lifestyle now.

"Taking drugs is looked at as living life on the edge, especially because musicians these days, who are often role models for youngsters, speak openly about using drugs, about checking into rehab and trying to change."

Six people, all Malaysians, died from drug overdose at the Future Music Festival Asia concert in Kuala Lumpur last week, with several Singaporean concert-goers being hospitalised as well.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, there were three drug-related deaths at a dance festival called A State Of Trance on the same weekend. One of those who died was a Singaporean.

Mr Tan says those taking drugs at music festivals and clubbing events are usually social users who are experimenting.

"The hardcore users typically isolate themselves and use the drugs in private.

"Experimental or social users often underestimate the impact and effect of the drugs consumed, and may not be clear about the quality of the drug," he adds.

The presence of alcohol at such events also complicates matters.

"Meth (which the police believe the six Malaysian victims took) is a stimulant. Alcohol on the other hand, is generally considered a depressant.

"Partygoers who are already doped up before the event may not be able to keep track of how much they're actually drinking.

"The person's sense of when to stop is skewed, which can result in alcohol or drug overdose," he says.

Psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow, who specialises in addiction treatment, says that the Internet has made it easier for drug users to create dangerous cocktails.

"There are sites which claim to teach you how to get the best high with the right combination, and people don't realise how deadly and dangerous these can be," he says.

Singaporeans can be very drug-naive, because they do not experiment that much, according to Dr Winslow.

"And when they go overseas where there are few controls, they think they can do what they want, unfortunately, to the detriment of their own health," he says.


Counsellor sees more professionals who are addicts

 For years, he used methamphetamine and Ecstasy when he went to parties.

But his dependency deepened. It got to a point where he would fly into a rage without drugs, sleep in all day and withdraw from being intimate with his wife.

When most people heard about him, they assumed he was a gangster or school dropout who mixed with bad company.

But Mr Tony Tan, a Singaporean counsellor at rehabilitation centre The Cabin in Thailand, reveals that he was a successful businessman in his 20s.

"He was heading a subsidiary of his transport-related family business, so there was stress at work.

"There was also tension in his marriage as his wife wanted to settle down with their new child, but he wanted to party," he says.

Mr Tan, who helped him, says that he is seeing more professionals such as bankers, teachers and even CEOs getting addicted to drugs.

The Cabin, which helps about 500 drug abusers each year, has seen the number of Singaporean clients going up by 40 per cent each year for the last three years.

Mr Tan says: "Last year, we saw about 44 people from Singapore. In total, the centre has seen 120 Singaporean clients.

"Many are high-functioning individuals, who are often well-educated and affluent. Money is often not an issue for them."

Psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow suggests that affluent individuals may have always been using drugs, but are being noticed only recently.

Whether one gets hooked on drugs depends less on where the first encounter took place than the experience itself.

Mr Tan says: "People keep using because it's serving them a purpose.

"For example, young adults who have just started working in competitive economies like Singapore and Malaysia may find that it relieves stress, and that would serve as a reason for why they return to it again."


Dirty or pure, drugs kill

 Drug abusers expect the narcotics they take to get them high.

But many do not realise the risks they are taking with each hit.

Not only do they risk long-term damage to their bodies, there is a chance that they may die from overdose or impure drugs.

The deaths in Malaysia and Indonesia earlier this week, which were drug related, attest to this.

A handful of drug and alcohol deaths are a "sad but constant feature" of music festival seasons, says Mr Duncan Dick, deputy editor at UK dance and clubbing magazine Mixmag.

"You certainly don't need to take drugs to enjoy a night out.

"But then again drugs have been a part of the nightclub scene since the 1920s, so they must be doing something aside from keeping people up late," he says in an interview with The New Paper on Sunday.

Ecstasy and cannabis are the most popular drugs among clubbers, according to the 2012 edition of the Global Drug Survey, which is compiled by UK consultant psychiatrist, Dr Adam Winstock.

Contaminated ecstasy pills have been a problem for the UK recently, points out Mr Dick.

Dozens have died due to pills laced with PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine, Death or Dr. Death), reported Mixmag in April last year.

PMA, a drug which has similar effects to Ecstasy, can kill at lower doses compared to Ecstasy, especially when mixed with other drugs. It can also quickly result in a fatal rise in body temperature.

On the other end of the spectrum, increased quality and purity of Ecstasy can also pose a problem.

"If they (the drug users) don't adjust their use accordingly, you could find that more people are running into trouble because they're using too much," explains Dr Winstock.

In general, drug use is more common among people who go clubbing, and it is difficult to identify the profile or type of clubber who uses drugs because it is just about everyone, he says.

"There is a higher risk of overheating, dehydration, and the temptation to use a lot of drugs and alcohol," he says. "That's because if you are going to dance for 12 hours, stimulant drugs are quite useful to give you the energy to dance.

"But there are lots of people who use stimulant or party drugs and don't go to (a) club," he says.

He says that drug deaths are rare. "In the UK, there were maybe 50 deaths last year related to Ecstasy. And that's (out of) hundreds and thousands of people taking them every weekend."

Some clubs in the UK and US are using amnesty boxes to protect their patrons.

The boxes, often placed at the entrance of rave venues, encourage clubbers to deposit any weapons or illegal drugs without threat of arrest.

A Manchester club, Warehouse Project, recently started an innovative movement to protect their patrons from contaminated drugs.

Researchers, stationed outside the club in vans, test drugs deposited in the amnesty box or confiscated by security in and around the venue.

If the researchers find anything particularly suspicious, they alert the club, which can put out warnings on social media and on an LED sign in the venue, reported The Guardian in December.

On the enforcement front, Dr Winstock singles out the Internet as a challenge for drug-busting officers.

Being able to order drugs online and receive it via the post adds a layer of difficulty for the police to monitor the trade, he says.

Dozens have died due to pills laced with PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine, Death or Dr. Death), reported Mixmag in April last year.


People openly take drugs overseas

You would imagine clubbers popping pills or snorting substances to get high in a darkened toilet cubicle or some place out of sight.

But local DJs say that is not always the case.

DJ Kurt says people would sniff cocaine right in front of him while he is on the deck at overseas gigs in UK and Germany.

It is quite a common sight, he says matter-of-factly.

It is usually cocaine or Ecstasy, he adds.

People also openly take drugs in clubs and on the streets while overseas, says DJ Andrew T, resident DJ of The Butter Factory.

DJ Eclipse, who has gigs in Asia, says it is easy to get drugs in Indonesia and Malaysia.

"They are quite public about it. It's not a secret," says the 27-year-old.

He says that when he walks around the crowd after his sets, he usually notices a few people on drugs.

"It's easy to tell. Just look at their facial expression - their eyes will be rolling."

He has even seen people peddling drugs.

DJ Andrew T says the taking of drugs is not limited to partygoers.

"It's common, I get offered drugs everywhere I go. But I do not touch them."

DJ Kurt, who used to do one to two overseas gigs a month, says: "Some DJs take drugs before going on stage. Some big-name DJs do drugs as well."

The 34-year-old says it is part and parcel of the scene in Europe and that it is an open secret.

"The laws in other countries are different from Singapore. A lot of people do drugs," he says.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it is a crime for Singaporeans and permanent residents to take banned drugs, even if they do it in other countries.

When they return to Singapore, they can be subjected to a urine test to detect any illegal narcotics, which can stay in the body for weeks or sometimes months.

Those found guilty of consuming or possessing illegal drugs face up to 10 years' jail or a $20,000 fine, or both.

But you do not need drugs to have a great time, the DJs say.

"The wildness of the party really doesn't depend on drugs. It depends on the crowd at the event and the vibe.

"We have pretty wild events here, without drugs, on a constant basis," says DJ Andrew T.

Hazards of drugs


When snorted, it can corrode the nose.

Those injecting cocaine risk damaging veins and spreading blood-borne viruses, such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

High doses can raise the body's temperature, cause convulsions and lead to a heart attack and heart failure.

Using cocaine a lot makes people feel depressed and can lead to anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks.



It can leave users feeling agitated, paranoid and aggressive.

It can increase heart rate and blood pressure, raising the risk of heart attack.

There is evidence that long-term methamphetamine use can cause brain damage.

Methamphetamine can also cause severe psychoses - a serious mental state where you lose touch with reality.

In cases of overdose, stroke and lung, kidney and gastrointestinal damage can develop. It can also lead to a coma and death.


The comedown from Ecstasy can make people feel lethargic and depressed.

Effects of use can include panic attacks, paranoia, psychosis, memory problems and depression.

Ecstasy use has also been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems.

Anyone with a heart condition, high blood pressure, epilepsy or asthma can have a dangerous reaction to the drug.

The drug affects the body's temperature control.

Extended periods of dancing in a hot atmosphere, like that in a club, increase the chances of overheating and dehydration.

But drinking too much can also be dangerous as Ecstasy can stop the body making urine.

Drink too quickly and it affects your body's salt balance, which can be as deadly as not drinking enough water.


Source: talktofrank.com


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