“As some nations decriminalise cannabis … a growing number of young people here are also displaying a more laid-back attitude towards the drug” (Experts Worry As Some Young People Soften Stance On Drugs, Tan Tam Mei).
The headline figures that 16 per cent of those aged 13 to 21 in Singapore “had a liberal attitude towards drugs last year” (ST, Apr. 28) an increase from the 11 per cent in 2013 – from a survey by the National Council Against Drug Abuse – have gained the most attention thus year, yet if the government wishes to improve its anti-drug (awareness) campaign, then keener and more precise research is perhaps needed to understand the underlying attitudes of young Singaporeans. Perception surveys, after all, can only do so much. For instance, drug-related information could be derived from social media and websites, but it does not necessarily follow that youths are therefore influenced by these sources.
What would be more productive preventatively, in addition to these findings on attitudes and knowledge, is to uncover factors which predispose youths to drug consumption. Some of these could, for example, include socio-demographic indicators and peer or community networks, and at the same time some of the other trigger factors could be identified too. Focus groups with a sample of the survey respondents could yield insights, though I think the perspectives of recovering or former drug consumers or addicts would prove most useful. What is of interest here, in other words, are reasonable causal explanations for drug consumption or addict, from which policy interventions or programmes could be designed.
Thereafter, the challenge would be to mitigate the “liberal attitudes” towards drugs in Singapore. If the concern is the five percentage point increase over the past three or four years, then the success or effectiveness of initiatives should be benchmarked against whether the figure goes down, in the years to come. In this vein, the government can say with greater certainty what a particular policy is intended for – in terms of the expected outcomes – and in the future scale up those which have a stronger track record.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.