Saving lives, protecting children: Why S’pore must be drug free, not drug tolerant.

There has been much public discussion regarding Singapore’s tough stand on drug trafficking in the past months.  

In April 2022, Mr Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam was hanged after being convicted for trafficking 42.72 grams of pure heroin in Nov. 2010.

Just three days ago, Mr Nazeri Lajim was hanged after being found guilty in 2017 of trafficking not less than 33.39 grams of diamorphine, also known as heroin.  

The hanging of Mr Nazeri brings the total number of drug-related executions in Singapore to 4 this year. Amnesty International Malaysia said that the spate of hangings “appear to be part of a new wave of hangings” in Singapore, but this is a simplistic view without reference or understanding of deeper and real life concerns surrounding the issue of narcotics.

Singapore’s war on drugs

Both regionally and globally, the drug situation has become increasingly complex and challenging.  Singapore is located at the doorstep of the world’s largest drug producing region, which makes our city state vulnerable and permeable to the movement and consumption of narcotics.  

Furthermore, Singapore’s GDP per capita is the highest in the region, making us an attractive destination and a natural target for the illegal drug trade.

The following is an example of a documented trending occurrence that offers some insights into the severity of the issue. A trend of increased trafficking of methamphetamine has been observed in the South East and East Asia region over the past several years.

According to a recent 2022 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, it was found that the synthetic drug trade continues to expand in East and Southeast Asia, with production and trafficking hitting record levels in 2021, when a record amount of methamphetamine (at nearly 172 tons) seized in East and Southeast Asia, with over 1 billion methamphetamine tablets recorded for the first time.

In this same period, methamphetamine has become the most commonly abused drug in Singapore.  When these two sets of data are overlaid and viewed together, the inference is clear and simple:  Even with the most stringent of enforcement / controls, and the harshest of deterrents, Singapore is not immune to the regional trends of the drug trade. It puts into sharp relief Singapore’s vulnerabilities to developments in the regional drug situation.

Another area of grave concern is the high proportion of new drug abusers.  According to a Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) annual statistics in 2021, about 34 per cent of drug abusers arrested in 2021 were new abusers.  What is even more troubling, though unsurprising, is that 60 per cent of new drug abusers arrested were under 30.  Narcotics affect the young disproportionately.

Drugs destroy everything

Narcotics are a scourge upon humankind. The immense human suffering caused by every drug abuse case is both amplified and multiplied. A heavy price is exacted not only from the drug abusers but also from their families, the communities and the societies that they are a part of. Often, the damage is irreversible. Livelihoods are laid waste. Life and its possibilities are cut down, cut short. And for what? For the participants of the illegal drug trade to make money.

For these reasons, Singapore remains resolute and uncompromising in its stand against narcotics, with the CNB leading the charge and employing a robust and comprehensive drug control strategy that tackles both the supply and demand of narcotics. The strategy includes preventive drug education, tough anti-drug laws, rigorous enforcement, international engagement, and rehabilitation and aftercare of drug offenders.

The ultimate deterrent would undoubtedly be that of capital punishment. Over the years, Singapore has been able to keep the drug abuse situation in control, relative to many other jurisdictions and developed economies. But the war on drugs will never cease because the lure of profits from the trafficking of narcotics is simply too great for members of the drug syndicates to resist. Even with the death penalty, they will keep trying.

How Singapore is faring

Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam shared in a BBC interview that Singapore arrested about 6,000 people for drug-related offences per year in the 90s. Today? Around 3,000 a year, an interesting development. By right, with the rampant drug trade in the region, numbers should have gone up. But instead, it has gone down and thousands of lives were saved as a result. This is undoubtedly down to the good work of our CNB officers.

Minister Shanmugam cited a Ministry of Home Affairs survey, which he commissioned, conducted in the region where many drug traffickers come from. It found that about 83 per cent said the death penalty made people not want to traffic substantial amounts of drugs in Singapore, while 69 per cent said the death penalty was more effective than life imprisonment in deterring people from trafficking drugs.

“It’s because of the death penalty that they won’t come in, or they will traffic below the amounts so it’s a very important point,” he emphasised.

Over the years, Singapore has been able to keep the drug abuse situation in control, relative to many other jurisdictions and developed economies. But the war on drugs will never cease because the lure of profits from the trafficking of narcotics is simply too great for members of the drug syndicates to resist.  Even with the death penalty, they will keep trying.

Saving lives, protecting children

Each loss of life, directly or indirectly associated with narcotics is both a tragedy and a statistic.  But the greater tragedy would be us having the means to confront this challenge, but choosing to go soft on it.  As part of a common humanity, it is only natural for us to mourn the loss of life.  Our sympathies as a society must be applied justly and evenly, and must also be extended to those who fall prey to drugs, including their families and loved ones who bear the brunt of the suffering every day that a family member or a loved one remains an addict.

Just last week, a suspected drug abuser, who is also 7-month pregnant, climbed out of the window of a unit on the 11th floor and descended to the 8th floor’s aircon ledge to evade CNB officers.

The officers also found her seven-year-old son alone and drug paraphernalia in the unit.

Last year, CNB officers found a 10-month old crying child during a drug raid and even made baby formula milk for her.

Source: CNB Facebook page

Drugs not just harm the abuser but also the people around them, with children most vulnerable.

Keeping Singapore drug free, not drug tolerant

Earlier this month, Hong Kong marked the 25th anniversary of her return to China. The historical developments that led to this landmark occasion should serve as a poignant reminder of the effects of narcotics on a country and its people. Opium played a leading role in bringing about the paralysis and decline of the Chinese Qing empire, and the Century of Humiliation for China that followed.

Singapore must never yield or succumb to the risks and dangers of narcotics.

Drugs is a dirty business and will always be so. Singapore has to continue to take a tough stand on drugs. Singapore must continue to be kept drug free.

Cover photo credit: CNB Facebook page