The Malaysian and Singaporean government are fighting an uphill battle against drug abuse as drug dealers are constantly finding loopholes and innovative ways to outsmart the authorities.

Despite Malaysia’s efforts to educate on anti-narcotics, facilitate rehabilitation and imposing harsh penalties for drug abuse, the country still faces piles of obstacles. According to the country’s national anti-drug agency (AADK), the main challenge lies in eradicating new psychoactive substances (NPS), like methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin, cocaine and ketamine, which can be produced easily in-home factories.

Similarly, in Singapore, a tough legal framework against traffickers and abusers exists. Intensive efforts to educate the public about the dangers of drug abuse have been carried out – complemented by comprehensive rehabilitation measures. However, Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam says, growing threats from the region are one of the main challenges facing the country.
“Myanmar and Lao PDR account for 22% of the total global area used for illicit opium poppy cultivation. The trafficking of ice and heroin in the region generates over USD32 billion annually,” he stated. This attracts criminal syndicates from various countries.

Technology and social perception fueling drug abuse

“Most of the substances in NPS are legal, so the dealers buy these substances and mix them here in the country and that’s when the drug becomes illegal,” said Malaysia’s National Anti-Drugs Agency (AADK) director-general, Dr Abdul Halim Mohd Hussin.

Users of synthetic drugs typically use the internet and encrypted apps such as WhatsApp to obtain their illicit goods. This makes is hard to trace both the suppliers and users as many are smart students and even successful professionals.

The number of new addicts has also risen from 20,281 to 22,295 in 2016. Photo credit: The Malaysian Insight
The number of new addicts has also risen from 20,281 to 22,295 in 2016. Photo credit: The Malaysian Insight

In addition, the low pricing is also another key reason why many school and university students are involved.

This is reflected in a 2014 study by Singapore’s Task Force on Youths and Drugs, which found that most young cannabis abusers arise from middle or high socioeconomic backgrounds.

“Close to two-thirds of new abusers in 2016 were under the age of 30,” Mr Shanmugam said, citing a survey conducted by the National Council Against Drug Abuse, in 2016. It discovered that young people below the age of 30 were more open-minded towards drugs, when compared with a similar survey done in 2013.

The situation is also similar to Malaysia, where the problem is compounded by the rise in online drug availability.

Collateral damage of drug abuse

Malaysia’s Deputy Home Minister, Mr Nur Jazlan Mohamed said schoolchildren in 402 schools nationwide had been identified as being at high risk of serious drug abuse. Random tests conducted on 36,675 schoolchildren in 2015 found 1,475 of them positive for drugs. From the total, 73% were tested positive for amphetamine-type stimulants, while the rest were positive for cannabis-related drugs.

“Parents refuse to confront what their children had done on their watch. They are hesitant to seek help, complicated by the stigma and negative attitudes toward drug addiction. In the end, drug addicts are denied the level of care they need, leading to deadly consequences,” highlighed Zulkifli, who works for Ikhlas Community Welfare Association of Malaysia, an NGO that helps drug users, particularly intravenous drug users, and those diagnosed as HIV positive.

“We need to continue to wage war against drug abuse. It is not just the drug traffickers and abusers we have to think about,” urged Mr Shanmugam.
Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam urges Singapore to remain steadfast in the resolve to keep Singapore drug-free. Photo credit: TODAYonline
Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam urges Singapore to remain steadfast in the resolve to keep Singapore drug-free. Photo credit: TODAYonline

A softer approach needed to prevent relapse

Relapse is another issue that needs to be dealt with as quitting drugs is not as simple as just stopping to take them.

“Humans like to stay the way they are, they dislike change,” said Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam, Professor of Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine at Monash University.

He further cited alcoholics as an example, “With alcoholics, you treat and manage them, but when they go out into society, there are environmental cues that are triggers. So, the triggers bring back the urge, and once people are not well-equipped to manage the urge, they start drinking and relapse.” 

This can be translated onto the usage of drugs.

Dr Philip George, Consultant Psychiatrist at Assunta Hospital, highlighted that “one of the key contributors to prevent relapse is peer support.”

“They are very strong in helping people entering relapse – where they work with a buddy system,” he stated, “whenever there is a strong urge or craving, the person can approach their buddy.”

Mr Yunus Pathi, founder and president of Pengasih in Malaysia, echoed in agreement, attributing the high relapse rates to a lack of “recovery capital”, meaning the absence of family, community and religious support and difficulties in securing employment.

While Malaysia and Singapore are opting for a more humane approach, the Philippines has been criticised locally and internationally for its executions in the drug war.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte declared war on drug traffickers and users in the country upon entering office in 2016. Since then, thousands of Filipinos have been executed and extrajudicial killings purportedly carried out by police operations. Human rights groups condemn the approach, accusing the president of perpetrating crimes against humanity. MIMS

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