Hooked on heroin at 12: Worrying trend of younger drug abusers
She took cannabis when she was 12 years old and for three years, attended drug parties and tried heroin which her boyfriend introduced to her.
When she was 15, her aunt found heroin in her bag and called the police, saving her life.
Ms Carol Wee, now 42, knows how easy it can be for the young to get ensnared by drugs because three decades on, the drug situation in Singapore, while much improved, has not gone away.
The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has always been worried about young people and drugs.
A first-ever survey on drug prevalence conducted by the Institute of Mental Health found that the mean age of the onset of drug consumption among Singaporeans and permanent residents was 15.9 years old.
Ms Wee was speaking to The Straits Times on Wednesday at the CNB workplan seminar where the survey results were released.
Aimed at examining the prevalence of illicit drug consumption, the survey involved 6,509 Singaporeans and permanent residents aged between 15 and 65 years old.
It was carried out between April 2021 and July 2022 and was representative of Singapore’s resident population by age, race and gender.
Recalling how she took drugs as a child, Ms Wee said: “I lost my parents at a young age and mixed with the wrong group of friends at 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. But 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.
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 had started consuming drugs before the age of 18.
Mr Teo said through the survey, it is estimated that 0.7 per cent of Singapore residents had abused drugs in the past year.
“While this percentage looks small, but when multiplied out across the population, this translates potentially to about 18,000 residents,” he said, adding that this finding was worrying.
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 chances of being arrested and the awareness of the adverse effects drugs have on their health.
The survey also found that cannabis, Ecstasy and methamphetamine were the drugs most frequently consumed, with most of the respondents saying cannabis was the first drug they tried.
Among those who had abused drugs, curiosity was the most common reason for trying out drugs. Other reasons included the belief drugs could help them cope with problems and peer pressure.
Mr Teo added that four years after the introduction of the death penalty for trafficking cannabis in 1990, there was a 15 to 19 per cent reduction in the probability that traffickers would choose to traffic above the capital sentence threshold.
He said: “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.”
Last month, 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”.
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’ was 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 said she is concerned about the liberal attitudes some youth have towards drugs, adding: “I wasted three years of my life because of drugs. My plea to youths is don’t waste yours.
“Drugs may seem like it can soothe and solve life’s problems, but that’s a deception. The moment you are hooked on it, you will lose control of your life. So please think twice, and don’t even let the addiction start.”