Drug abuse among young people still a concern: CNB
Arrests of drug offenders dropped about 15% last year, but proportion of new and young abusers remain high
Fewer people were arrested for drug offences last year, with a decrease of about 15 per cent from the 3,526 in 2019 to 3,014.
Arrests of new abusers also fell from 1,460 in 2019 to 1,143, which makes up about 38 per cent of all arrests last year.
But the high proportion of new abusers and those aged below 30 remain a matter of concern, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) noted in its annual report yesterday.
Among the new abusers, 713 were below 30, accounting for 62 per cent of new abusers, which is consistent with the 2019 figures.
The overall number of young people arrested for drug abuse is also significant.
"In 2020, 1,232, or 41 per cent, of all drug abusers arrested were below 30 years old. Drug abusers in the 20 to 29 age group continued to form the largest group of abusers," said the CNB.
The bureau said the overall drop in arrests is likely due to reduced movement of travellers across borders, which impacted both drug supply and demand.
Methamphetamine, heroin and new psychoactive substances (NPS) were the three most commonly abused drugs last year.
Users of methamphetamine (also known by its street name Ice) made up 69 per cent of those arrested, 17 per cent took heroin and 9 per cent used NPS.
About four in five new abusers arrested took methamphetamine, with NPS continuing to be the second most commonly abused drug among new users.
Noting the major markets for illegal drugs in East Asia, South Asia and Oceania, the CNB said Singapore is vulnerable to developments in the regional drug situation, and it can be reached and influenced by transnational organised criminal groups.
The CNB said its intensive enforcement operations dismantled 24 drug syndicates last year, and it also worked closely with other Home Team agencies to conduct over 500 operations across the island, including at the checkpoints to intercept attempts to smuggle drugs into Singapore.
The drugs seized by the CNB last year have an estimated street value of about $11.6 million, close to double the $6.49 million seized in 2019.
Clinical psychologist Lin Jiayong told The New Paper the number of young abusers could be symptomatic of greater underlying issues.
"We are living in a world of immediate gratification," said Mr Lin, who specialises in child psychology at Annabelle Psychology. "Instead of working hard and patiently waiting to be rewarded, young people may seek shortcuts to get the same dopamine rush.
"When they find that social media or gaming cannot provide them with this any more, they may turn to drugs to reclaim this feeling of pleasure and to chase the next high."
Mr Lin added that young people may also turn to drugs when they cannot find meaning in their lives.
He said: "We may have bred a generation that is disillusioned with external values forced upon them. For example, the notion that you need to earn a lot of money and be better than your neighbour may not fill a young person with a sense of meaning if he does not find purpose in what he is doing.
"Drugs become a compensatory way to fill that void, like a relationship that is always available and predictable in expectancies and outcomes."
But with its painful withdrawal symptoms, negative biological effects, and dire psycho-social consequences, drugs are not the right avenue to find meaning, Mr Lin said.
Parents and schools can help young people find meaning and purpose by encouraging them to explore different activities, including paths less travelled, and to support causes that they identify with.
Mr Freddy Wee, 67, deputy director of drug rehabilitation halfway house Breakthrough Missions, believes peer pressure has a strong effect on young drug abusers.
The former drug addict said: "When a few people start on a new drug, they will often tell their friends about it and many of them are easily influenced."
CNB has continued its preventive drug education efforts over the past year despite Covid-19.
Many of the outreach activities including community engagement and talks were brought online. CNB also live-streamed preventive drug education skits to schools.
CNB director Ng Ser Song said: "Singapore adopts a harm-prevention approach to deal with the scourge of drugs. Our approach has worked well for our context and has helped keep the drug situation under control.
"This is why our approach continues to receive strong public support, with almost nine in 10 Singaporeans agreeing that our drug laws are effective."