Singapore Wrestles with ‘Party Drugs’ Threat
Published by Yahoo News – Tuesday 19 November, 2002
Copyright: Yahoo News
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Twenty-year-old Ringo says it was like riding on an imaginary roller coaster after friends spiked his drink with “K” at a karaoke lounge three years ago.
The imaginary ride turned into a real life plunge into a world of psychological dependence, loan sharks and drug pushing as the Singaporean’s first taste of the narcotic became a habit too big for his pockets.
Ketamine, or simply “K,” is finding favor among Singapore’s affluent young party-goers, who wrongly believe they can get a quick high without the risk of becoming hooked.
Official figures for 2001 show that drug abuse is on the rise again in Singapore after eight years of steady decline, fueled by “party drugs” such as ketamine, Ecstasy and “Ice.”
Four in 10 new drug abusers arrested last year confessed to having taken these seemingly harmless pills and powders — cheap synthetic equivalents of heroin and cocaine.
The youngsters who take these synthetic drugs find it a fashionable status symbol and range from secondary school leavers to university graduates, experts said.
Ketamine, originally used as an anaesthetic, is a hallucinogen that alters sensations, mood and consciousness.
It comes in a white crystalline powder form, as a liquid or a tablet and can also be snorted, smoked or consumed in drinks. Experts say users can develop psychological dependence on “K.”
“Young people like it. It’s a party drug and you don’t need any apparatus to take it,” said Munidasa Winslow, a psychiatrist at Singapore’s Institute of Mental Health.
“There’s a misleading concept that it’s safe,” said Winslow, who heads the hospital’s drug rehabilitation program.
Gone is the image of the gaunt, shivering drug addict crouching in a dark corner “chasing the dragon.”
The new breed of drug abuser is the hip party-goer who pops the pill and gets a quick high before taking to the dance floor to boogie the night away.
“They are cheap to produce, give an equivalent high, and tend to be in favor with the party crowds,” said Winslow.
Indeed, it found favor with Ringo, a frequent patron of billiard parlors and karaoke lounges, who soon found his monthly income of S$300 ($170) unable to sustain a S$3,000-a-month habit.
Six months into his dependence on ketamine, Ringo, then 17, started pushing drugs to other users to fund his own vice.
He could have faced 20 years jail and 10 strokes of the cane if he had been caught. Ringo is now undergoing rehabilitation at a treatment center, after two previous attempts to rid himself of the habit.
FIGHTING DRUGS WITH FICTION
Synthetic drugs first made big news in the city state in 1995 when police raided a popular discotheque and unearthed Ecstasy pills, said to have been distributed at private rave parties held after official closing hours.
Singapore’s drug busters have since kept close tabs on under-the-table peddling of the drugs at popular nightspots.
The city state, known for tough laws that mandate hanging for traffickers of even modest amounts of hard drugs like heroin, uses a lighter hand on synthetic drug dealers. Still, offenders can face a maximum sentence of 30 years jail and 15 strokes of the cane for the import and export of ketamine and Ecstasy.
The United Nations has said about 40 million of those aged 15 and above have abused amphetamine-type stimulants such as “Ice” and Ecstasy.
Asia alone accounts for roughly two-thirds of such drug abuse, mostly in East and Southeast Asia, where “Yaba” tablets — the cheaper version of “Ice” — are also prevalent.
Despite tough anti-drug laws and a spate of successful clampdowns on drug rings, strait-laced Singapore may need more than nooses and canes to stave off a global tide of synthetic drug abuse.
Departing from its usual slogan-and-health warning campaigns against drugs, the city state is turning to fiction to warn off a growing crowd of younger drug abusers.
The government is distributing copies of a make-believe diary of a substance abuser to schools to highlight the dangers of drugs.
“Mama, how will you remember me?… Will it be your smiling son? Or will it be the other picture — the one of me lying on the floor of the filthy public toilet. Near dead,” says the fictional diary of David, a young man on death row.