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September 26, 2017 Tuesday | Last updated on 26/09/2017 11:47AM (Singapore)
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Home / News / National Drug Control Policy Seminar: Understanding Singapore’s Stance against Drugs  
Published: 05 Jul 2017 03:35PM (Singapore)
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National Drug Control Policy Seminar: Understanding Singapore’s Stance against Drugs
Participants at the seminar on 30 June 2017 were given an overview to understand Singapore’s drug control policies better. They also had the opportunity to interact with former drug abusers at The Helping Hand Halfway House.
By Muhamad Khair

The seminar on Singapore’s National Drug Control Policy, which was held at Revenue House on 30 June 2017, detailed how the holistic drug control policy has kept Singapore relatively drug-free.

Through sessions that covered the history of drug abuse, current realities and new challenges that Singapore faces and sharings by experts in the field, participants had a better appreciation of Singapore’s stance on drugs.

The seminar was attended by representatives from different ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI), Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), Ministry of Law (MinLAW) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

It was the first in a series of seminars organised by an MHA Working Group led by the Advocacy Office against Drugs & Crime, which is comprised of officers from the Singapore Prisons Service and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB).

Participants at the National Drug Control Seminar comprised representatives from various government bodies. PHOTO: Zavier Low

Cannabis and Its Harmful Effects

Speaking at the seminar, Director, Communications Division, CNB Mr Sng Chern Hong noted that “countries are adopting a harm reduction approach, or advocating for cannabis legalisation and the decriminalisation of drug consumption – we need our partners to understand our policy and be united in advocating for a drug-free Singapore in their engagements with domestic or international counterparts”.

Worrying domestic trends, such as the rising numbers of younger drug abusers (below the age of 30) in Singapore and the misperception of cannabis as being “cool” or having “medical benefits” among today’s youth were highlighted to the participants.

Such myths were surfaced and debunked by Dr Jimmy Lee, Senior Consultant & Deputy Chief, Department of General Psychiatry, and Senior Consultant, Research Division at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), who shared that cannabis use can “damage the memory, depressive behavior, and retard the growth of babies, if used during pregnancy”.

Participants of the seminar with Mr Amrin Amin, who graced the event. PHOTO: Zavier Low

Singapore’s “Harm Prevention” Approach

Clarifying Singapore’s policy approach to drugs was Professor Stella Quah, adjunct professor at the Duke-NUS Medical School, who highlighted two differing policy approaches to drugs – “harm prevention” and “harm reduction”.

The former is a multi-pronged policy approach which aims to eradicate the use of drugs totally while the latter focuses on reducing the harm induced by taking drugs. Singapore takes the former approach.

She highlighted that it was important to “understand the distinction between the two approaches – harm reduction is not suitable at all for Singapore”, adding that understanding this was paramount in knowing how to defend Singapore’s approach to drug addiction, which differs with drug prevention policies adopted by different countries.

Prof Stella Quah sharing about Singapore’s policy approaches against drugs. PHOTO: Zavier Low

Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs Mr Amrin Amin, reiterated the value of unity in the fight against drugs.

“To tackle drug related issues effectively, there needs to be a concerted effort by the different government organisations,” shared Mr Amin.

He also candidly clarified certain misconceptions about Singapore’s drug policies, stressing that there were comprehensive rehabilitative mechanisms in place for offenders.

For example, punishments for the consumption of drugs, such as imprisonment and caning, under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA), are only meted out to third time repeat offenders while first and second time offenders who do not have an official criminal record are referred for rehabilitation instead.

Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs Mr Amrin Amin (third from left) during his fireside chat with participants of the seminar. PHOTO: Zavier Low

On the seminar, Deputy Director, Info Ops Centre, Ministry of Communications and Information Ms Karen Chen, said “This information would be useful in the future to debunk any misperceptions about the drug control policies in Singapore as it allowed (the participants) to get a better understanding of the whole issue”.

Halfway House Visit

The seminar concluded with a visit to The Helping Hand Halfway House, a rehabilitation centre for former drug offenders, where participants toured the compounds and learnt more about how the organisation helps to rehabilitate ex-offenders. They also met with residents who shared more on their journey in overcoming their drug addiction.

Reflecting on the visit, Deputy Director (International Cooperation), Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, Ministry of Health Ms Yeo Wen Qing said she learnt about the plight of ex-drug offenders in Singapore, expressing that she was inspired by her meeting with “real people with real stories who managed to turn their lives around”.

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