Hooked on heroin at 12: IMH survey finds starting mean age for drug consumption in S’pore at 15.9 years

Through the survey, it is estimated that 0.7 per cent of Singapore residents had abused drugs in the past year.

Nadine Chua

Nadine Chua

The Straits Times


Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean (third from left) being introduced to a mock-up of household cannabis cultivation at the Central Narcotics Bureau Workplan Seminar on May 3, 2023. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

May 4, 2023

SINGAPORE – She took cannabis when she was 12 years old, attended drug parties for three years, and got hooked on heroin after her boyfriend introduced it to her.

When she was 15, her aunt found heroin in her bag and called the police, saving her from a life of drugs.

Three decades on, Ms Carol Wee, now 42, is drug free and forever indebted to her aunt.

While the drug situation in Singapore is much improved, the scourge has not gone away, and Ms Wee is hardly surprised because she knows how easily the young can be tempted.

A first-ever survey on the prevalence of illicit drug use, conducted by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) between April 2021 and July 2022, found that the starting mean age for consumption among Singaporeans and permanent residents was 15.9 years.

The survey involved 6,509 Singaporeans and permanent residents between 15 and 65 years old.

Ms Wee actually started with glue-sniffing.

Speaking to The Straits Times on Wednesday at the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) workplan seminar, where the survey results were released, she said: “I lost my parents at a young age and mixed with the wrong group of friends in school. It started with playing truant, then glue-sniffing.

“Later came the drug parties, where we would take cannabis. My boyfriend at the time also encouraged me to try heroin, and I did.”

When she was 15, her aunt looked through her bag and found heroin.

“She called the cops on me, and I felt so angry and betrayed. It was only years later that I realised she did it for my sake, to save me,” said Ms Wee.

She now volunteers at The Turning Point, a non-profit organisation that helps women overcome drug addiction

Ms Carol Wee said she knows how easy it can be for the young to get ensnared by drugs. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who was the guest of honour at the workplan seminar, said: “We are very concerned that drug abuse starts at such a young age and at home, where young people should have parental supervision and be safe. Given the long-term impact of drug abuse, we need to do more to address this.”

Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, cited the IMH survey, which found that 41.8 per cent of abusers started consuming drugs before the age of 18.

Through the survey, it is estimated that 0.7 per cent of Singapore residents had abused drugs in the past year, he said.

“This percentage looks small, but when multiplied out across the population, this translates potentially to about 18,000 residents,” he noted, adding that this was a worry.

A total of 74.4 per cent of respondents cited legal consequences as a top reason for staying away from drugs. Other reasons included the chance of being arrested and the adverse effects of drugs on their health.

The survey found that cannabis, Ecstasy and methamphetamine were the drugs most frequently consumed, with the majority of the respondents saying cannabis was the first drug they tried.

Among those who had abused drugs, curiosity was the most common reason for why they started. Other reasons included peer pressure and the belief that drugs could help them cope with problems.

Mr Teo said that four years after the introduction of the death penalty for trafficking cannabis in 1990, there was a 15 per cent to 19 per cent reduction in the probability that traffickers would choose to traffic above the capital sentence threshold.

“There are some who campaign against our tough drug laws, especially the death penalty. I hope they will devote at least as much time, effort and energy to sending just a very simple message to all those out there: Drugs are dangerous. Prevent harm to yourself and to others by staying away from drugs,” he added.

In April, Singaporean Tangaraju Suppiah, 46, was hanged after being convicted in 2018 of abetting the trafficking of 1,017.9g of cannabis.

Before his execution, British billionaire Richard Branson criticised the use of the death penalty in Singapore in a blog post titled “Why Tangaraju Suppiah doesn’t deserve to die”.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said Mr Branson’s claims that Tangaraju’s conviction did not meet the standards for criminal conviction and that “Singapore may be about to kill an innocent man” were patently untrue.

The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of cannabis is more than 500g. The amount Tangaraju was convicted for was more than twice the capital threshold, noted MHA.

Ms Wee is concerned about the liberal attitudes some youngsters have towards drugs.

“I wasted three years of my life because of drugs. My plea to young people is: Don’t waste yours,” she said.

“Drugs may seem like it can soothe and solve life’s problems, but that’s a deception. The moment you are hooked, you will lose control of your life. So please think twice and don’t let the addiction start.”

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