The Addiction Situation in Singapore

Singapore has one of the lowest prevalence of drug abuse worldwide. According to the 2008 World Drug Report, 0.005 percent of the population of Singapore are cannabis users, 0.003 percent use ecstasy and 0.005 percent use opiates. However, skeptics question the validity and accuracy of the data, as the statistics are based on drug abuse arrests not on treatments. Some researchers suggest that drug use is more common that reported, with ecstasy and cocaine use common in underground dance clubs and with the wealthy elite.

Consumption of a drug is a criminal offence and mandatory sentencing applied. Additionally, the stigma attached to drug addiction in Singapore is severe. Drug users are scorned, discriminated against and punished for their illness and seeking help often means becoming more of an outcast. In Singapore, drug addiction is a personal weakness and a crime that deserves punishment. Drug addiction is a complex disease that requires compassion, care and appropriate treatment. Users often struggle for years to overcome their addiction with drugs impacting on all aspects of their lives. In most countries around the world, drug addicts can seek help from doctors or other medical practitioners and have access to medication and therapies to help them get over their addiction. Drug use is seen as a medical or psychological condition, and legislation and government policies are in place to protect and treat users.

Harm reduction and harm minimization strategies are not a policy of Singapore, and drug users do not have access to needle exchange programs. Needle exchange programs are an incredibly successful harm minimization strategy that has proven to reduce the risk of transmitting and contracting infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis. Some critics warn at the potential health burden that the lack of harm minimization strategies is placing on Singapore with injecting drug users placing themselves and others at risk. But the government believes that supporting this type of program simply encourages and allows drug use to prevail.

Drug Legislation in Singapore

In Singapore, legislation around drug use is considered prohibitive and non-progressive. The government focuses policies and programs on the prevention of use and demand reduction but does not provide harm minimization or appropriate levels of rehabilitation for those who are suffering. If a drug addict seeks help from a medical practitioner or psychiatrist, that doctor is required by law to submit the addict’s details to the Central Narcotics Bureau. This organization then will apply harsh restrictions on the person and commit addicts immediately to a drug rehabilitation center. Once an addict’s details are with the Central Narcotics Bureau, they are subject to random testing even for years after they have finished their rehabilitation. The random urine testing may be done at any time.

The Misuse of Drugs Act allows the police to search anyone they deem to be suspicious of drug use or trafficking without a warrant. Additionally, police can demand a urinalysis, and failure to comply carries an automatic presumption of guilt. Conviction for trafficking of drugs (over 500 grams of cannabis, 30 grams of cocaine or 15 grams heroin) carries a mandatory death penalty.

Singapore’s Drug History

Heroin and opium were a significant problem for Singapore with heroin usage rates increasing 500 times between 1972 and 1975. Heroin usage rates dropped however with the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act that was passed in 1973. Heroin and methamphetamine remain the top two drugs of choice in Singapore, with 91 percent of those arrested for drug abuse having one of these drugs. Possession or consumption of an opiate attract significant fines and jail time, up to S$20,000 and / or 10 years in prison. A person found to be in possession of a drug or having consumed a drug can be committed immediately to a drug treatment center.

Methadone and buprenorphin are the two major treatments that are recognized worldwide as treatments for heroin and opiate addiction. These drugs are prescribed to addicts as a long term maintenance treatment that relieves withdrawals, reduces cravings and blocks the effect of heroin or opium. However, despite the fact that these drugs are known to help addicts, Singapore has deemed these treatments illegal. This poses a major hurdle for those seeking treatment for their heroin or opium addiction, which is one of the most difficult and painful to overcome.