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.
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/NEXT PAGE
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."