S’pore remains tough on drugs: K Shanmugam reiterates Govt’s stance


Singapore’s policy on illegal drugs remains consistent—drug-free, not drug-tolerant. Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam reiterated this fact in a Sep 1 Facebook post, directly engaging with the recent controversies surrounding national swimmers Joseph Schooling and Amanda Lim.

“We are very tough on drug traffickers and those involved in the drug trade. That includes imposing capital punishment,” wrote Minister Shanmugam.

“This is in contrast to how we treat pure drug abusers, who haven’t committed any other offence,” Minister Shanmugam further wrote, nuancing the issue. “Since 2019, our approach is to treat such pure drug abusers as persons who really need help. I have for some years now explained our policies.”

Indeed, Minister Shanmugam went before Parliament in January 2019 to publicly explain the Misuse of Drugs Act.

“For those who only abuse but do not have any other criminal offence—that means they only consume drugs and they admit to their drug abuse—then the general approach, regardless of the number of times, will be that Director CNB will make the appropriate supervision or detention order and channel them into the rehabilitation regime,” Minister Shanmugam said at that time.

These rehabilitation regimes, which are for higher-risk first time abusers as well as repeat abusers, are intensive disciplinary ones run by the Singapore Prison Service.

The regimes also include psychological correctional programs—drug addiction is a complex process and the abuser needs a fundamental shift in mindsets to understand that drug abuse is unequivocally not alright in Singapore.

However, first-time drug abusers assessed as low-risk of further abuse are generally handed an Enhanced Direct Supervision Order (EDSO). This is a non-custodial supervision order with compulsory counselling. A case manager supports these persons and their families, working together to prevent further incidents of drug abuse.

Schooling and Lim have incurred punishment and warnings under this strict anti-drug policy, added Minister Shanmugam in his Facebook post. This despite inconclusive evidence for their alleged drug-taking.

“But also note: If there is clear evidence of current use of drugs, then CNB will take steps, regardless of whether the consumption took place in Singapore or overseas,” Minister Shanmugam warned. “So don’t assume that if you consume drugs overseas, you will be let off with a warning.”

Why rehabilitation?

“Addiction is a complex problem,” Minster Shanmugam further stated during his Jan 2019 Parliament speech. “Staying clean is ultimately dependent on a variety of factors, including the resolve of the abuser.”

“But it is a difficult journey for the abusers,” Minister Shanmugam continued. “Often they become estranged from their families, they are estranged from the communities and the workplace. It is harder for them to reintegrate once released. A number get back into bad company, on drugs, and then they get re-arrested at various points. The cycle repeats itself over and over again.”

The risk of recidivism is highest in the first two years, Government agencies such as SPS, Yellow Ribbon Singapore and the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) find regarding drug abuse.

But when drug abusers stay clean for five years, recidivism rates plummet. This especially when these former abusers can hold down a job. 

So, SPS, Yellow Ribbon Singapore and CNB help abusers with a post-release, drug-free program alongside community partners. Job training, casework, counselling and befriending are major parts of this preparation for the future.

“We have been devoting a lot of resources to the post-release support. That is why we feel confident that we can move ahead with this,” said Minister Shanmugam at that time.

Indeed, the number of people admitted to the DRC and its rehabilitation program, after the amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act, jumped 65 per cent to 2,080 in 2019. This compared to 1,257 in 2018 and 1,152 in 2017. This shows that more abusers were being saved from the clutches of drug abuse.

A better Singapore means no drug trafficking

This September also sees Minister Shanmugam pointing to data from the United States to highlight that Singapore is better off without drug trafficking.

“The opioid epidemic has shaved off almost one year from US male life expectancy at birth,” he notes in his Sep 3 Facebook post. “In 2019, the average US baby boy was expected to live almost four years fewer than a child born in similarly wealthy countries.”

“In Singapore we have some activists who campaign on behalf of drug traffickers. Many are genuine, and a good number aren’t aware of the facts,” the Minister elaborated.

“But a small number (we know who they are), are cynical, they take foreign money, they deliberately ignore facts and these data, and want to see our society weakened, and undermined,” he finished.

“They will never respond to the data which shows how pernicious and damaging the effects of drugs are.”