Singapore’s position on drugs ‘unyielding and clear’: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE: As a major transport and commercial hub, Singapore is vulnerable as a transit point and import market for drugs – and that is why the country has taken a tough line on drug offences, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Saturday (Sep 15).

“We have therefore adopted a position that protects our people – unyielding and clear. We don’t buy into this nonsense that drugs are good for you. If science says so, then okay. But we have not seen such scientific evidence as yet,” said Mr Shanmugam.

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He was speaking at the Yellow Ribbon Community Project’s annual appreciation lunch. The organisation seeks to engage the community in helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society.

Mr Shanmugam highlighted the Unites States’ experience in dealing with the drug problem and noted several reasons behind its opioid crisis.

Big pharmaceutical companies for instance are pushing addictive opioids irresponsibly, he said, citing the example of Purdue Pharma.

“Purdue deliberately marketed OxyContin for years as a harmless painkiller when in fact it is a powerful, addictive opioid,” he said.

Another reason is “dubious” research on drugs, including the argument that US regulators should allow greater access to cannabis because it is purportedly safer than other drugs.

“Our own Institute of Mental Health (IMH) did a study on cannabis and concluded, based on a wide scan of robust research, that cannabis is harmful, especially to the brain and cannabis is addictive,” said Mr Shanmugam.

The consequences in the US – one in seven adults used cannabis in 2017, but the figure was one in four among those aged 18 to 29, Mr Shanmugam noted.

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“In Colorado as well, the number of cannabis related hospitalisations jumped more than 70% after legalisation of recreational cannabis,” he added.

“The US experience shows if we are not firm, clear-minded, deliberate in our actions, drug abuse will grow insidiously, until one day it spirals out of control and society is torn apart.”

The minister reiterated the costs to society in Singapore because of drugs.

Out of 9,000 offenders in the prison system, more than 80 per cent have drug antecedents, he said.

“For every offender, a family is suffering because of the offender’s drug abuse.”

Mr Shanmugam recalled a drug bust two weeks ago when a female drug abuser was arrested. She has a three-month-old daughter and was taking Ice during her pregnancy.

“Who knows what harm has already been caused to the baby’s health? Did this baby have a choice in the matter? Why does an innocent child have to pay for her mother’s irresponsible actions?

“Volunteers like yourselves will now have to be there for the baby because her mother has failed her,” he said.

NEED FOR COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

While the Singapore prison system does it best to rehabilitate the 9,000 offenders under its charge, Mr Shanmugam said “it is unable to take care of every aspect”.

He called on the community to help complement the prisons’ work, and thanked community partners for sponsoring “booster packs” for families of inmates.

The packs, containing grocery vouchers and food items, will be distributed by the Yellow Ribbon Community Project progressively from this month.

“We have put in place a system – zero tolerance for drugs, but at the same time there is help for offenders, and their families and loved ones,” said Mr Shanmugam.

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“Good work by prison volunteers like yourself has kept the scourge of drugs at bay. You have helped families and the individuals who will return to them one day.”