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Counsellors in Singapore race to tackle problem of online drug sales

As more turn to the internet to search for drugs, the number of people arrested for online sales jumps nearly seven-fold in two years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 11:24am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 11:29am

By Siau Ming En

At times disguised as health products, illegal drugs sold at popular e-commerce marketplaces have been attracting drug abusers, and counsellors and experts warned that this is becoming an easier avenue for addicts to get drugs.

Alarmed at how quickly the number of people buying drugs online has grown, they added that preventive education is the primary defence to address the problem.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) released its annual drug statistics, and highlighted the sharp increase in online drug peddling as an area of concern. Last year, 201 people were arrested for buying drugs and drug-related paraphernalia online, a nearly seven-fold jump from 30 in 2015.

Countries such as New Zealand are also facing a similar issue, where websites such as Craigslist from the United States put up advertisements for the sale of a range of drugs that include marijuana and cocaine.

Mr Alfred Tan, chief executive officer of the Singapore Children’s Society, told TODAY that this problem is not surprising because it is in line with the general trend of people buying more things through the Internet. “What is probably more frightening is how fast it has grown,” he said.

The authorities would then have to start tracking how these online platforms are marketing their sites, especially on platforms where young people regularly engage in private chats, he added.

Mr Billy Lee, founder of Blessed Grace Social Services — which runs support groups for recovering drug addicts — said that for new drug abusers who do not know where to get a regular supply of drugs, they may find it easier to search for drugs online.

To avoid being seen buying drugs in seedy places, the younger and more educated drug abusers may also turn to the Internet to buy drugs, because it gives them a “cloak of secrecy”, Mr Lee said.

Dr Thomas Lee, medical director and consultant psychiatrist at The Resilienz Clinic, said that a few years ago, some of his patients already told him that they obtained their illegal drugs from online sources though they were evasive about details.

Adding that it would be difficult to clamp down on these cases — much like those who gamble or watch pornography online — Dr Lee said that it would be more important to focus on preventive education in addressing this problem.

“There is a need to let (people) know that taking drugs is harmful and the dangers of doing so, (otherwise) there is no deterrence,” he said.

Mr Luke Tan, executive director of halfway house Teen Challenge, pointed out that parents and educators also have to pay closer attention to the parcels received by youth.

“The parents can show their interest by asking, ‘What have you bought?’… and by observing their behaviour and response, that will sound an alarm if they are a bit evasive,” he advised.

Just last week, it was reported that 28-year-old Nicholas Chee Li-Yong was jailed five years and eight months, and given 10 strokes of the cane, for taking and ordering drugs online. He disguised the drugs as everyday items and had them sent over through the postal system.

Last June, CNB officers said that its officers arrested a 29-year-old man in an Orchard Road apartment after he was suspected to have ordered drug apparatus online.

They later found more than 100g of cannabis, about 20g of Ice, as well as ecstasy tablets, Erimin-5 tablets, a small amount of ketamine and drug-taking contraptions in the apartment.

Counsellors race to tackle problem of online drug sales