I still dream of my nightmare
He was a lecturer with a tertiary institute and a former general manager with a public-listed company.
In December 2010, he was busted for taking methamphetamine, also known as Ice.
Today, Michael (not his real name) has been clean for two years, but the drug use still tempts him.
"Honestly, sometimes I feel the urge to go back. I'm on guard," he told The New Paper.
According to statistics released by the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) yesterday, Ice consumption is at its highest over the last five years. (See reports on below.)
Among new drug abusers last year, 687 had used Ice whereas 229 opted for heroin.
A CNB spokesman said Ice overtook heroin as the top drug among new abusers in 2010. Most Ice abusers are men aged between 20 and 29 years old.
Pastor Don Wong, executive director of halfway house The New Charis Mission, said he is increasingly seeing well-educated and affluent people using designer drugs like Ice.
Michael was 52 when he was introduced to Ice after a banker passed him a bong at a wine appreciation party attended by about 20 professionals five years ago.
"He told me it was a recreational drug. I had no idea what it was, but since no one seemed to be having any ill effects, I was curious," he said.
The drug made him feel alert and elated. He started taking it almost weekly, usually at parties with "chill-out" music.
The partygoers were mostly Singaporean Chinese professionals in their 30s to 50s, with degrees and holding managerial positions in various organisations, he said.
Some had been doing Ice for 10 to 15 years.
"It's an exclusive group," he said.
He said that Ice helped him deal with the stress he faced at home, where he was the sole caregiver to his mother who had dementia.
"My siblings were not helping me at the time. Doing drugs was like going on holiday," said Michael, who has an elder brother and a younger sister.
But he is much closer to his siblings now, he said.
When he took drugs, he said it was like the movie Inception, a "dream within a dream".
"You float, you're in a totally different world," he said, adding he had also tried Ecstasy and ketamine.
He said these states could last up to 24 hours. But he was disciplined and stayed only four to five hours at these parties, which are often held in condominiums or hotels. Then he would take a taxi home.
"My family never knew. Drugs can make you lose appetite and weight, but I was conscious of nutrition and would make myself eat anyway.
"I never had a haggard look. My work was never affected. It was truly a Jekyll-and-Hyde existence."
Everyone was shocked when he was arrested.
"To them, I was well-organised and in control. There were absolutely no symptoms," he said.
He spent six months in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) in Changi Prison.
"They were shocked by my qualifications, of course. And I was embarrassed," said Michael, who has an MBA and had previously received two government scholarships.
He was in denial about his addiction at the time.
"I met a brilliant microbiologist there from the Agency For Science Technology and Research. He had been doing drugs daily... He was barely functional. I convinced myself I was different."
He was then put in home detention for six months. That was when he relapsed and hit rock bottom.
He said: "It was again a social setting. I saw the bong and couldn't resist, even though I knew I had a urine test the next day."
Again, he was locked up.
"I then realised I needed help," said Michael.
Today, he is undergoing a 12-step programme by Narcotics Anonymous, which meets weekly.
"At least, when I have dreams (of using Ice), I have an outlet to talk with counsellors and my mentor.
"When faced with a craving, I take a deep breath and ask myself what I'm doing. I talk about it and the minute I talk about it, I find relief. I pray and also find relief."
Michael is training to be a counsellor and gives talks to support groups.
"In the early part of recovery, I'd watch documentaries and see people burning Ice in a bong. That would trigger the desire to use. Now, I don't have that desire. But I can't guarantee that I won't feel it again."
He is now a business consultant specialising in market research and branding strategies. He spent two years looking for a job in vain after his release from prison. He also battled depression.
He has changed his phone number so his old friends can't keep in touch.
"I think there are a lot of people who are like I was, doing drugs undercover," he said.
My family never knew. I never had a haggard look. My work was never affected. It was truly a Jekyll-and-Hyde existence.
- Michael (not his real name) on his drug-abusing double life
MARIJUANA ABUSE NO LAUGHING MATTER
Cannabis made him happy, so much so he would laugh constantly.
But the drug is a gateway to stronger drugs, warned a former abuser, who wanted to be known only as Nigel, 37.
Known also as marijuana, ganja and pot, cannabis, which is usually smoked or used in food, can cause distorted thinking and perception as well as paranoia. Prolonged use can lead to addiction. More cannabis abusers were arrested last year - 183, up from 142 in 2012.
Nigel started doing cannabis daily at age 14 after he was introduced to it at a party. His two brothers also did drugs.
"It was acceptable in my circle. I even dealt in cannabis at some point and certain girls found me cool," he said.
Cannabis was considered attractive at the time as people felt the repercussions were less harsh, he said.
"We thought that if we got caught, maybe we would just be fined. Also, a lot of friends studied overseas - Australia, the US - where it's easily available."
At 19, he was caught for consuming and possessing cannabis and served a year's probation.
But that did not stop him. At 20, he had got so used to cannabis that he craved something stronger and turned to heroin.
"That ruined everything. I spent all my inheritance on heroin after my parents died. I was out on my ass, living on the streets.
"I had no more money and had to steal. I was afraid that I would hurt someone just to get money," he said.
So Nigel decided to kick his addiction. He had heard about The New Charis Mission halfway house and got himself admitted in 2010. Today, he is a youth mentor with the Mission and a prisons counsellor.
Central Narcotics Bureau director Ng Ser Song yesterday warned about the rising threat of cannabis.
He said: "Globally, some jurisdictions have relaxed their stance on the abuse of cannabis, with many seeing it as something relatively harmless. They cannot be more wrong. Start on the damaging path of drug abuse and it will lead to harm, not just on yourself but also your loved ones."
Last year, 2,466 repeat abusers were arrested, making up 69 per cent of the total number of 3,574 abusers arrested.
The number of new abusers arrested rose by 1 per cent, from 1,092 in 2012 to 1,108 last year.
Heroin and methamphetamine remain the most abused drugs, accounting for 92 per cent of all arrests.
The number of Chinese abusers arrested rose by 14 per cent to 1,257 last year while arrests of Malays and Indians dropped by 4 per cent (1,708) and 5 per cent (538) respectively.
The trend was similar among new abusers arrested, with more Chinese and fewer Malays and Indians.
Abusers aged 20 to 49 made up 75 per cent of arrests last year while 50 per cent of new abusers arrested were aged 20 to 29.