Former drug abuser could have been hanged
The number of drug abusers below 20 years old saw a jump of almost 50 per cent last year, the Central Narcotics Bureau announced yesterday. SHAFFIQ ALKHATIB (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to a former teenage abuser who counts himself lucky to be alive
When he was 20, the recalcitrant drug abuser-turned-pusher was in a car with a friend when Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers intercepted them.
Mr Mohammad Azahari Abdul Razak, then a student, will remember that day in 2001 for the rest of his life.
He could have been caught with enough heroin to have been sentenced to death. Ironically, an earlier drug sale had saved him.
Mr Azahari, now 35, told The New Paper: "I went blank (when they stopped us). I had sold some heroin just before I was caught."
He was nabbed with about 2 grams less than the amount which would have seen him hanged if convicted.
That's about the weight of two small paper clips.
"If I had been arrested earlier, they could have caught me with more drugs. If that were the case, maybe I wouldn't be here talking to you now," said Mr Azahari, who is now using his experience to warn others about the consequences of abusing drugs.
He was sentenced to 20 years jail with 20 strokes of the cane for trafficking heroin for the 2001 incident.
According to the CNB website, the penalty for those caught trafficking more than 15g of heroin is death.
Mr Azahari has been behind bars four times in total since he was 16 years old and was released about two years ago.
He heaved a sigh when told that the number of drug abusers below 20 years old has gone up from 190 in 2014 to 283 last year.
He said: "I want to tell youngsters out there to avoid drugs at all costs. Drugs can lead to a lifetime of misery for just a moment of pleasure."
Mr Azahari said he first started abusing drugs when he was 14 years old.
One of his neighbourhood friends had introduced him to cannabis and pills such as such nimetazepam (Erimin 5) and he tried them out of curiosity.
Soon, he started smoking cannabis every day with his friends.
Mr Azahari, who was then given $10 every week as pocket money, said: "We would pool our money, buy the drug and smoke it together.
"My studies suffered and I started playing truant. Teachers complained about me to my mum many times but I didn't care. My mother scolded me but I thought she was just nagging."
He was arrested for the first time when he was 16 and jailed 18 months for rioting.
But he went back to his old ways shortly after he was released.
He also started abusing heroin by smoking the drug with the same group of friends.
He was arrested again when he was 17 and sentenced to six months' jail for being in an illegal assembly.
After he was released, his drug abuse problem became more serious. He started injecting heroin. He was also selling the drug and cannabis to other abusers.
He was arrested a third time when he was 18, when his flat was raided by CNB officers at 2am.
Mr Azahari said: "My two friends and I were caught red-handed as we were taking drugs in my room. My mum, who was in her own room when the officer came, cried when I was caught."
He spent a year in a drug rehabilitation centre. But when he got out, he continued selling heroin and abusing it.
He also started abusing other substances like ecstasy and methamphetamine (Ice).
After the 2001 sentence, he finally learnt his lesson and while in jail, started taking lessons, doing well in both his O- and A- levels. Mr Azahari is now pursuing a chemical engineering diploma at a local polytechnic.
He said: "I decided to turn over a new leaf when I realised that I had wasted the best years of my youth.
"I'm still living at my old flat with my mum, but I avoid most of my old friends now."
He got married late last year and is now working part-time in warehousing.
He said: "Looking back, if I hadn't tried cannabis when I was 14, maybe I wouldn't have been involved in drugs at all. Don't abuse drugs. It's not worth it."
'Ice' overtakes heroin for the first time
Methamphetamine or "Ice" overtook heroin as the most abused drug for the first time last year.
Responding to queries from The New Paper, the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said: "Young abusers may have a misperception that 'Ice' and cannabis are less addictive and harmful than heroin, ensnaring more people into trying (them)."
The CNB spokesman added that in the short term, "Ice" abusers may suffer from insomnia and psychosis. Prolonged abuse of the drug may also lead to long-term health problems such as liver damage, stroke and eventually death.
The spokesman said: "The abuse of cannabis has also been associated with mental health problems and respiratory problems, and is especially harmful to youths. Its use has been linked to impairments in teenage brain development, and cognitive decline with a drop in IQ."
The executive director of the Singapore Anti-Narcotic Association, Mr Abdul Karim, told The New Paper yesterday that some young people also assume that cannabis is not dangerous as some jurisdictions, such as some US states, have either decriminalised or legalised the drug.
He stressed that cannabis is a "gateway drug" which could lead its abusers to try other drugs in the future.
He said that parents play the most important role in educating their children on the dangers of drugs.
He said: "Parents are encouraged to come forward to seek help from agencies like Sana if they suspect that their children are abusing drugs."
FIGURES FROM CNB
Total number of abusers arrested
Up six per cent
Number of new abusers arrested
Up 20 per cent
Number of abusers below 20 years old arrested
Up 49 per cent
Number of abusers between 20 and 29 years old arrested
Up 14 per cent
Estimated street value of drugs seized
2014: $8.17 MILLION
2015: $8.56 MILLION
Up five per cent
Top three drugs consumed by all abusers
Heroin: 1,560 abusers
Methamphetamine: 1,348 abusers
Cannabis: 187 abusers
Methamphetamine: 1,851 abusers
Heroin: 1,253 abusers
Cannabis: 194 abusers
Top three drugs consumed by new abusers
Methamphetamine: 760 abusers
Heroin: 146 abusers
Cannabis: 139 abusers
Methamphetamine: 1,013 abusers
Cannabis: 156 abusers
Heroin: 114 abusers
Last year, cannabis replaced heroin as the second most commonly abused drug among new abusers. Methamphetamine (Ice) is still the most commonly abused drug.