Despite strict drug laws and strong deterrent efforts from the authorities, drug abuse in Singapore continues to be a problem. You might have seen articles online or watched videos on YouTube pertaining to Central Narcotics Bureau’s (CNB) most recent drug raids. The organisation had conducted a five-day island wide drug raid, raiding suspected drug traffickers’ flats and netted drugs that had a street value of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
About the Central Narcotics Bureau
The Central Narcotics Bureau was established in 1971. It is Singapore’s main drug enforcement agency and is a separate entity from the Singapore Police Force. CNB has the responsibility of coordinating drug eradication activities in the country. A Committee to Improve the Drug Situation in Singapore was set up in 1994 to look into the local drug situation. The committee develop an integrated approach to deal with the drug problems here.
CNB lives by four main strategies: Aftercare and Continued Rehabilitation (for ex-addicts), Treatment and Rehabilitation, Rigorous Enforcement, and Preventive Drug Education.
A Persisting Problem: Drug Abuse and Trafficking in Singapore
Unfortunately, CNB’s latest figures show that the number of new drug abusers remains high. Although there is an overall improvement in Singapore’s drug situation, there is still a record-high number of drug abusers. Individuals, who are aged between 20 and 29, continue to form the largest group of drug abusers in Singapore.
In 2016, the number of drug abusers that were arrested by the CNB were 3,265. A year later, that number dropped to less than 3,100. It is important to note that approximately 40 percent of them were made up of new abusers. Out of the 1,249 new abusers arrested, nearly 70 percent had not exceeded the age of 30.
Repeat and New Drug Abuser Arrests in Singapore
In 2017, there was a four percent decrease in arrests pertaining to repeat abusers. The figures are as follows: 1,917 repeated abusers in 2016 and 1,840 repeated abusers in 2017.
In the case of new abusers, about 1,348 individuals were arrested in 2016 while 1,249 individuals were arrested in 2017. There was a 7 percent decrease within a year.
Understanding Drug Possession and Trafficking Penalties in Singapore
Drug possession in Singapore is a serious crime. It can lead to long-term imprisonment or even facing the death penalty.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, an individual can be fined up to $20,000 and/or a maximum of 10 years in prison if he or she possesses small amounts of illegal drugs.
According to Section 17 of the Act, an individual is presumed to be trafficking drugs if he or she is caught with the following drug amounts:
- 25 grams of Methamphetamine or more
- 100 grams of Opium or more
- 15 grams of Cannabis or more
- 10 grams of Hashish or more
- 10 grams of MDMA (ecstasy) or more
- 3 grams of Morphine or more
- 3 grams of Cocaine or more
- 2 grams of Heroin or more
Next, there is the Schedule 2 of the Act. It prescribes the death penalty if the individual is convicted of possessing any of the following amounts:
- 1,200 grams of Opium or more
- 500 grams of Cannabis or more
- 250 grams of Methamphetamine or more
- 200 grams of Hashish or more
- 30 grams of Morphine or more
- 30 grams of Cocaine or more
- 15 grams of Heroin or more
In 2013, this particular law was slightly adjusted. Instead of handing down death sentences, judges were permitted to impose life sentences on drug smugglers instead.
However, accused individuals must be able to prove that they were only drug couriers, they have helped the CNB in a substantive way, or they were suffering from some forms of mental disabilities.
What Are the Most Commonly Abused Drugs in Singapore?
The most commonly abused drugs in Singapore are cannabis, heroin, and methamphetamine. Approximately 98 percent of arrested drug abusers have used at least one of the three drugs. In 2017, 204 cannabis abusers, 847 heroin abusers, and 1,989 meth abusers were arrested. CNB found that new abusers displayed a preference toward cannabis and methamphetamine.
Cannabis comes from the hemp plant and goes by various names, including weed, hashish, ganja, joints, grass, pot, and marijuana. Also known as ice, methamphetamine is an odourless and colourless crystal that can cause psychosis, depression, and more. Heroin is a very addictive and powerful drug that is white or yellowish in colour.
The total street value of drugs seized in 2017 was nearly $7 million (down from $8 million in 2016).
The death penalty in Singapore has long been an important part of the country’s comprehensive anti-drug regime. One of the reasons why Singapore imposes harsh laws on drug abuse is due to the drug’s potentially deadly effects. For example, about 50 percent of heroin addiction cases often end in death (overdose), especially if it is left untreated.
Other reasons include the potential spread of hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and other blood-borne diseases that are caused by sharing unsanitary needles. These are risks that the country cannot afford not to eliminate.
What Were the Most Notable Drug Arrests in Singapore?
- The case of Shanmugam “Sam” Murugesu: A kilo of marijuana was found in his luggage in 2003. Prior to his conviction and execution (in 2005), he maintained a clean record and even served an eight-year term in the Singapore Armed Forces.
- The case of Nguyen Tuong Van: The Australian citizen was arrested in 2002 for trafficking heroin into Singapore. He committed the crime so that he could help pay his twin brother’s debts. Nguyen was caught while in transit between Melbourne and Ho Chi Minh City. The total haul (396.2g of heroin) was approximately 26 times the minimum necessary for Singapore’s mandatory death penalty. He was sentenced to death in 2005.
- The case of Johannes van Damme: The Dutch national was arrested in 1991 for possessing 9.5 pounds of heroin in his suitcase. Van Damme was caught while in transit at Changi International Airport. He claimed that he was carrying the drug for a Nigerian friend. Additionally, he had zero knowledge on the contents of the suitcase. Although the Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and the Dutch Foreign Ministry appealed against the judgment, authorities in Singapore proceeded to execute Johannes van Damme in 1994.
How is Singapore Tackling the Local Drug Situation?
The CNB worked together with the Singapore Police Force and the Immigration Checkpoints Authority to conduct multiple island wide operations that targeted drug abusers and traffickers. In total, the partnership of these organizations completed more than 1,100 operations at sea, air, and land checkpoints, intercepting drugs entering Singapore. In 2017, major operations by CNB managed to cripple over 20 drug syndicates.
Efforts pertaining to these crackdowns came after a 2015/2016 Youth and Public Perception survey that was conducted by the National Council Against Drug Abuse (NCADA). Although most respondents supported the country’s zero-tolerance approach towards drugs, an increasing number of young individuals displayed liberal attitudes towards them.
As the survey showed that nearly 60 percent of these youths were exposed to drug-related content via social media, CNB decided to expand its youth community and social media outreach efforts via popular social media platforms such as Facebook to encourage a drug-free lifestyle.
Today, the CNB continues to work with local community groups to raise awareness about the harmful nature of drugs. Additionally, the bureau also prepares preventive drug toolkits, e.g. developing mobile applications and printing parents’ handbooks that highlight the dangers of drug abuse.
According to a CNB spokesman, the bureau believes that newer and younger drug abusers may form the next generation of drug addicts. That’s why one of CNB’s key drug control strategies is rolling out preventive drug education programmes, including the Drug Buster Academy (DBA). It is CNB’s newest mobile Preventive Drug Education (PDE) outreach platform.
The Use of Mandatory Drug Tests
If you are in Singapore, the authorities can drag you into custody without a warrant. Additionally, you might be subject to drug tests. If you are a first-time offender (i.e. drug consumption), you will be imprisoned for one year. The second arrest entails a three-year sentence. If you are caught the third time for drug consumption, your punishment will be five years’ imprisonment with three strokes of the cane. Do note that consumption refers to one’s urine being tested positive.
In Singapore, Central Narcotics Bureau officers are regularly stationed at Changi Airport. They are trained to search any tell-tale signs of drug use. If you have taken drugs overseas, crossed the border into Singapore, and tested positive, you will still be charged.
Overseas Travellers are Subject to Singaporean Laws
You must know that if you are in Singapore, you are subject to Singaporean laws. This applies to you even if you are an American citizen. If you are an overseas traveller, who has been arrested in the country, you must contact the relevant embassy immediately upon your arrest. You request for the arresting authorities to notify your embassy for you.
An Embassy officer will then reach out to you and brief you about the country’s legal system. He or she will provide you with a list of attorneys. Singapore currently does not have a system that provides free legal assistance. But it does for capital cases.
You should keep in mind that Embassy officials cannot secure your release. Those actions would contravene Singaporean laws. If you have been arrested, your assigned officer will notify your family members as well. The officers can also facilitate the transfer of clothing, money, and food from family members and loved ones back home.
Drug Abuse: What You Should Not Do in Singapore
This is a note for overseas travellers. If you want to avoid arrest on drug-related charges in Singapore, you should never carry any item onto a plane if you don’t know what its contents are. Never carry anything suspicious that belongs to a stranger, an acquaintance, or even a friend.
Under Singaporean law, authorities presume possession if any luggage is checked in under your name and contains illegal drugs inside.
Next, you should always keep your paperwork organized. It is legal to bring personal medications into the country. However, you should always seek permission from the authorities for controlled medications. Never fly in with them if you do not receive any green light.
It goes without saying that you should never take drugs before your flight into Singapore. If you are planning to fly to Singapore for whatever reason, you should completely detox yourself weeks before your flight.
The Future of Singapore’s Fight Against Drugs
Drugs are being peddled online these days and parcels can come in from any part of the world. Adding to the fire are anonymous transactions and the rise of psychoactive substances. People are taking and mixing drugs with contaminants to lower the cost.
According to Minister K Shanmugam, the country will continue to maintain a tough stance and step up efforts in its fight against drug addiction and abuse. Relevant authorities will constantly review its strategies to tackle new challenges, e.g. differentiating between those who abuse drugs versus those who supply and cause harm.
There is also an ongoing need to ensure that the cultural perception and overall national attitude towards drugs remains strongly anti-drugs.
Drug Rehab and Addiction Treatment in Singapore
Are you looking for a reputable drug rehab centre in Singapore? The Cabin Singapore can help. Our specialist outpatient treatment centre in Singapore offers proven and effective treatment. Our team is comprised of Western-trained and accredited addiction therapists. If you are our client, you can enjoy complete peace of mind that we maintain the strictest standards of confidentiality.
Since our inception, we have treated both local Singaporeans and expats alike for a great array of substance addictions including heroin, prescription drugs, alcohol, and more. We also specialize in other process addictions such as compulsive Internet usage, sex, and gambling.
Did you know that most of our staff members are in recovery themselves? That’s why our counsellors understand first-hand the nature of various drug addictions and how it can be treated.
The Cabin Singapore is currently located at Suite 11-02, 11 Floor, Novena Medical Centre, 10 Sinaran Drive, Singapore 307506. You can call +65 3163 6110 to speak to one of our intake counsellors.