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PM Lee warns against ‘worrying trend’ of youths adopting liberal attitude to illicit drugs

SINGAPORE — As youths today become more exposed to alternative lifestyles on social media, there is "a very worrying trend" of them becoming more liberal towards illicit drugs, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Dec 7).

PM Lee warns against ‘worrying trend’ of youths adopting liberal attitude to illicit drugs

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Central Narcotics Bureau on Dec 7, 2021.

  • Alternative lifestyles on social media give the impression that using drugs is harmless or cool, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
  • As a result, there is ‘a very worrying trend’ of young Singaporeans adopting a liberal attitude towards drugs, said Mr Lee
  • He was speaking at an event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of CNB
  • The Government has no intention of legalising drugs here, even as other countries do so, said Mr Lee

SINGAPORE — As youths today become more exposed to alternative lifestyles on social media, there is "a very worrying trend" of them becoming more liberal towards illicit drugs, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Dec 7).

Speaking at an event at Goodwood Park Hotel to commemorate the Central Narcotics Bureau’s (CNB) 50th anniversary, Mr Lee said that these lifestyles may glamourise drugs, “giving the impression that using drugs is harmless or even cool”.

“Based on annual surveys conducted by the National Council Against Drug Abuse, the attitudes of youths towards drugs are gradually becoming more liberal,” said Mr Lee at the event held to celebrate the contributions of past and present CNB officers.

But the Government “must push hard against it” to prevent future generations from becoming drug abusers, he added.

HIPPIE CULTURE SAW DRUGS TAKING HOLD AMONG YOUTH IN S’PORE

Mr Lee shared that even as far back as the 19th and early 20th century, opium was widely consumed here, especially by the poorer classes of society.

Then in the late 1960s, elements of “hippie culture”, which was sweeping across the world, took hold among the young in Singapore, said Mr Lee.

“Drugs like methaqualone (MX) pills, cannabis and heroin were readily available. Pot parties were rampant. Young people were popping MX pills at tea dances and nightclubs, and this took a toll on health and lives,” he added.

As drug abusers began to die from overdose or being killed in traffic accidents while high, the Government resolved to tackle the drug problem “comprehensively and decisively” by forming the CNB, said Mr Lee.

In its early days, CNB launched operations against nightclubs and hippie gardens where drug abuse was rampant. 

But drug traffickers and abusers were undeterred as penalties for drug offences were “too low”, said Mr Lee.

To this end, the Misuse of Drugs Act was enacted in 1973 to impose harsher penalties on drug pushers and traffickers, but the “pivotal change” was two years later when the Government introduced the death penalty for the most serious drug offences, he added.

The deterrent effect was soon felt, said Mr Lee.

“Drug traffickers became much less willing to bring drugs into Singapore. Drug abusers, desperate to obtain drugs, were forced to go to Johor (in Malaysia) to purchase and smuggle into Singapore drugs in small quantities, a practice known as ‘ant trafficking’.”

The CNB also stepped up its enforcement activities, including a 1977 joint operation with other agencies that saw more than 8,000 suspects arrested.

Mr Lee noted that CNB has continuously improved its surveillance and enforcement capabilities over the years.

With drug traffickers and abusers using e-commerce services and encrypted messaging applications like Telegram, the CNB will need to use technology to the full to tackle new drug supply methods, he said. 

REHABILITATION AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT BY CNB

Besides law and enforcement methods, the CNB also relies on rehabilitation measures and public engagement to keep drug offences low in Singapore, noted Mr Lee. 

For instance, the agency’s drug supervision scheme, which ensures that former drug abusers stay clear of drugs after being released from jail or Drug Rehabilitation Centres, has placed greater emphasis on effective rehabilitation over the years. 

The agency has increased the maximum supervision period from two to five years and introduced compulsory counselling for young drug abusers and their parents.

Public education, however, is “the most crucial part” in the war against drugs, said Mr Lee. 

“Through effective public education, we can stem drug abuse upstream before it causes more troublesome social problems.” 

Such education involves the CNB working closely with agencies such as the Ministry of Education, schools and non-governmental organisations to organise activities like school talks, exhibitions and video-making competitions, he said. 

‘NO INTENTION’ TO LEGALISE DRUGS

While Singapore has become “relatively drug free”, with the number of drug abusers arrested yearly fallen by half since the mid-1990s, Singapore cannot afford to be complacent, Mr Lee warned.

Among the challenges that Singapore faces in its war against drugs is the trend by many other countries to legalise drugs, particularly cannabis, for recreational use.

Mr Lee said that these countries are doing so because they cannot control their domestic drug situation or have been lured by the economic benefits of doing so. 

They are also advocating for an approach that encourages the safer use of drugs, said Mr Lee. 

“But this can easily go awry, despite their best intentions.” 

Mr Lee recalled how Singapore learnt a “painful lesson” in 2002 when it introduced Subutex as a legal prescription to treat opioid addiction. 

People began to abuse the substance as an alternative to heroin, leading the Government to list Subutex as a controlled drug four years later.

We are under increasing pressure, both externally and internally, for us to consider legalising drugs.  But we have no intention of doing so. We must decide what works for Singapore, and not just follow what others are doing.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Said the prime minister: “We are under increasing pressure, both externally and internally, for us to consider legalising drugs. 

“But we have no intention of doing so. We must decide what works for Singapore, and not just follow what others are doing.”

Therefore, CNB needs to strengthen the national drug education efforts and find new ways to engage the population, said Mr Lee. 

“But the rest of us have a part to play too; to correct misinformation about drugs, to speak up against drug abuse within our social circles, to say ‘no’ to drugs,” he added. 

Mr Lee concluded his speech by thanking past and present CNB officers for their contributions and offering the full support of the Government, Singaporeans and community partners in the fight against drugs.

Related topics

drugs Central Narcotics Bureau Lee Hsien Loong drug abuse

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