Part 2 – New Psychoactive Substances: The Hidden Menace

Drug addiction is a debilitating disease that can rob users of their emotional and mental well-being while being enslaved. Although many Western countries accord drug addiction its medical recognition, Singapore is well-known for its tough stance in handling the local drug situation.

Drug abusers can be sent to Drug Rehabilitation Centers for only up to two times for ‘rehabilitation’. Their stints during this period remain mainly punitive with some scope for rehabilitation. Abusers who re-offend the third time are sentenced to Long-Term Detention with sentences ranging from five to seven years with mandatory caning. They are also housed with offenders who have committed criminal offences.

What remains to be seen is whether addicts receive the treatment they need to break out of their addictions. Long-term detentions seem to only side-step the real problem of drug addiction being a major public health concern and a disease of the mind that requires medical attention.

Image result for heroin singapore

For well over 3 decades since the 1970s, heroin was the king of drugs in Singapore. Although cannabis usage was hugely popular in the swinging 80s and the early 90s, it soon lost its popularity with hardcore addicts who preferred heroin.

The dawn of the new millennium saw the rise and rampant use of amphetamines otherwise known by its street name of ‘Ice’ or ‘Sejuk’. Many hardcore addicts turned to amphetamines and abused it concurrently with heroin. Within the next ten years, there were as many ‘Ice’ addicts as there were heroin addicts. Heroin also lost its popularity with the younger crowd who deemed it passé to smoke heroin and saw it as a drug of choice for the older generation.

Such hard drugs have also been under the schedule of Class A drugs making it very tough for addicts to continue abusing them as the law usually catches up with them and puts them behind bars for a substantial period of time. The minimum punishment for trafficking in Class A drugs is five years’ jail and five strokes of the cane.

While we grapple with how we treat the addicts in our midst, the drug situation has evolved to become far more menacing than it ever was due to the emergence of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) that can avoid detection and which mimic the effects of Heroin, Ice and Cannabis.

In 2017, 81 individually named NPSes were added in the Class A list. However, local drug syndicates have become increasingly clever in ‘designing’ new NPS that enable abusers to avoid detection. Interestingly, such drugs come with catchy street names such as K2, Mushroom, Meow Meow and Spice to lure the younger crowd as well as hardcore addicts who substitute these for traditional hardcore drugs.

We are now at the crossroads of yet another major drug situation in Singapore.

Current NPS abusers continue abusing the drug (the current drug of choice is ‘Mushroom’ which cannot be detected in urine testing) while deriving comfort from the fact that they cannot be caught.

Syndicates have become more sophisticated. When the CNB came up with drug testing for K2, these syndicates went on to experiment with newer strains of the drug till they discovered the use of acetone-a household item- to lace tobacco. They buy loose tobacco in bulk, lace it with acetone and other chemicals, leave the tobacco to dry and then re-package them into smaller packets for sale.

A tobacco packet can be sold for $200 and an abuser can use such a packet for a few days to a week depending on their consumption patterns.

Abusers can suffer from paranoia and hallucinations as well as physiological withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and cold sweats.

Without the prospect of getting caught by the CNB, current abusers continue toying with their lives as well as their mental and emotional well-beings since they cannot be caught by the authorities for drug possession or consumption. There have been recent cases of abusers getting caught with huge amounts of tobacco in their possessions but they have been let off by the authorities as they have technically not committed a crime for carrying or consuming drugs.

It is interesting to observe how the CNB will tackle this insidious problem. Abusers of NPS especially the current rage ‘Mushroom’ have been known to casually report for their urine supervision in their respective police stations after having consumed a roll-up joint (Mushroom) moments before they entered the police station. Imagine how brazen the addicts of today have become as compared to maybe just ten years ago.

It is not difficult to spot abusers of ‘Mushroom’ when they report for their urine supervision. However, what are the plans moving forward for the CNB when faced with a drug that they have yet to categorize and the usage is rampant?

Let us not forget that many abusers are risking life and limb in continuing their addiction to NPS.

In part 1, I wrote about Mike who eventually took his own life while grappling with addiction to ‘Mushroom’. There are so many more ‘Mikes’ in our midst struggling with this relatively new scourge and they need help. The longer we take to come up with proper remedial action for NPSes, the harder will be the impact to society in general as it will soon morph into a pressing public health concern.

By Mohammed Saleem

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