Masagos on new ways to get young hooked: Peddlers mask harm with sweet temptations
A new form of addiction is sugar-coated and the sweetness is masking the danger to young people.
Drug pushers have come up with a novel way of getting young people hooked on drugs: Sweets laced with cannabis.
It is all part of a push to get the young hooked early. The drug pushers know that if you hook them young, you hook them longer; perhaps forever.
Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, in an exclusive interview with The New Paper, said the authorities are aware of the trend.
"These guys target children... The scary part is that they're targeting young people because they know - and the studies are clear - that (for) people who start young, the addiction is permanent," he said.
So far, there have been no news reports citing arrests relating to cannabis-laced sweets here. Sold online, these candies have spurred discussion by netizens on Singapore-based forums.
One manufacturer boasted that its product is "so tasty, we're illegal in 34 states", while other websites share recipes for cannabis-infused sweets.
That our young people are being targeted is clear and the statistics are alarming. In the last 10 years, the number of arrested drug abusers under 20 had increased by an average of 7 per cent each year.
The number of new cannabis users arrested rose from 93 in 2012 to 129 last year.
Cannabis is just one of three types of drugs typically abused by youth. Ice and what is called New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are the other two.
It was announced last month that a new multi-agency task force, co-chaired by Mr Masagos, will be formed to address the growing problem of drug use among Singapore's youth.
NEW BREEDING GROUNDS
Schools and homes now appear as the new breeding grounds for drug activity. TNP understands that detection remains challenging as the students' illegal activities are usually exposed only by whistle-blowers.
Mr Masagos added without giving details: "Our worry is that these three drugs are being pushed very hard in our schools and we are discovering that (it is) unlike in the old traditional cases, where the drug addicts come from dysfunctional families.
"... And (they) push (the drugs) to their friends found in clusters of good schools with good families."
In a Berita Harian report last month, between 85 and 90 per cent of young drug abusers studied at post-secondary institutions.
Successful efforts to make the club scene here drug-free have resulted in youths taking drugs "mostly at home," Mr Masagos added.
Without naming the schools, the minister of state said NPS are misconstrued by youths as less harmful and addictive compared to "harder" drugs like heroin.
"They (NPS) are no different from whatever drug they're modified from," Mr Masagos maintained.
"The effect is the same."
Sometimes branded as "bath salts", "herbal or legal highs" or "designer drugs", NPS are widely available online.
They have been linked to brain and kidney damage and are also believed to be responsible for deaths and unexplained suicides, according to a 2013 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Seen as a global menace, "NPS are proliferating at an unprecedented rate and posing significant public health challenges", the UNODC report stated.
So far, more than 250 substances, including ketamine, have been found in NPS. Equally worrying is that such drugs are being promoted as "problem-solvers".
Added Mr Masagos: "It's touted that (if you take these substances), you can stay up all day, you can study all day, you can become slim. The marketeers for these drugs target well-to-do families because these substances are not cheap. "
While secret laboratories overseas continue to churn out harmful drugs, danger exists at home in the minds of young people with liberal attitudes.
A survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse last year revealed that a greater proportion of those aged between 17 and 21 are more likely to accept that "it's all right to try drugs for a new experience".
Mr Masagos said that youth also seem to think they will not be addicted or that the drugs will not be detected, if they consume a small portion of drugs. Others assume that the authorities cannot detect the newer synthetic drugs.
He debunked the myths by saying that the authorities can still detect signs of drug use by formulating new tests from "reference material".
His warning to youths and children is that the authorities are taking the drug issue seriously.
"If you're in a tertiary institution (and) if you get caught (abusing drugs), you'll lose your future," Mr Masagos warned. "We don't want you to 'infect' others around you."
PROFILE OF TODAY'S YOUNG ADDICT
- From good schools and families
- Well-to-do and Internet-savvy
- Takes drugs at home or in school with friends
- Experiments with "soft" drugs like cannabis before graduating to more potent ones such as Ice and heroin
- Most come from post-secondary institutions
I feel empowered and hopefully our voice will enhance the effectiveness of the task force, allowing our own experiences to bring about constructive input that will directly affect us.
- Mr Syed Salleh, 32, a youth activist from Mendaki who is in a new drug task force
BY THE numbers
The number of new cannabis users arrested last year, up from 93 in 2012.