SINGAPORE NEWS: Aiming for a drug free country

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Minister K Shanmugam (far left) at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) roundtable session on demand reduction. (Photo: Ministry of Home Affairs)
Minister K Shanmugam (far left) at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) roundtable session on demand reduction. (Photo: Ministry of Home Affairs)
Minister K Shanmugam (far left) at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) roundtable session on demand reduction. (Photo: Ministry of Home Affairs)

The focus for Singapore is to build a drug-free country, not a drug-tolerant one, and there needs to be a consensus on how to move forward as a global community to address the drug issue, said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on two occasions at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS).

During his statement at a roundtable discussion on demand reduction, Mr Shanmugam said there are generally two broad approaches to the drug issue: Demand reduction and harm reduction or legalisation. Singapore’s approach is on demand reduction, and this “has been very successful” for the country in its fight against drugs. For instance, the number of drug abusers arrested in the last 20 years has dropped from more than 6,000 in the 1990s to about 3,000 now, he said. “This is against the backdrop of a more prosperous Singapore where people have more money to spend on drugs, and amid a worsening regional drug situation where the supply of drugs has mushroomed. Despite that, the numbers have been reduced substantially,” the Minister added.

Another indicator is recidivism. Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, said recidivism rates have also halved from more than 60 per cent to 30 per cent. “These figures stand in stark contrast to the experience of other countries which have tried to reduce drug demand. However, we understand that what works for us may not work for others,” he said. His comments come amid growing calls to make the worldwide fight against illicit drugs less punitive. The Minister was addressing a special three-day session of the 193-nation General Assembly called by Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico to discuss the global war on drugs, which Latin American countries say has failed. This is the first major UN review of the issue since 1998.