SINGAPORE: It used to be that teenagers turned to glue to get high, but now synthetics drugs like "Ice" and "Ecstasy" are increasingly becoming their poisons of choice and arrests of new abusers below the age of 20 have gone up.
Last year, 228 new abusers below the age of 20 were nabbed for drug abuse - almost three times the number in 2007.
One former user told Channel NewsAsia that he got the drugs at parties or drinking sessions that he'd been invited to.
Dr Carol Balhetchet, director of youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said: "You have the parties at chalets... they have parties in their own homes when their parents are not around or they have parties in places where there are no adults around.
"Their parties aren't exciting until they add a little colour to it, which is the drugs. So I would call them designer parties, because that's where they have their designer drugs."
Social workers said that what is more worrying is that teens are now being introduced to party drugs at a younger age.
Youth worker Daeng Norashida Sahak, who works with Ain Society, said she recently handled a case where a girl first tried ecstasy when she was only 11 years old.
Such drugs cost about between S$30 and S$60 a pill, and teens pay for it in instalments - using their own pocket money.
Ms Norashida said that first-timers are usually allowed to try the drug for free, but have to pay for subsequent use of the drug. Typically, many of the youth she counsels turn to drugs for reasons that include stress, as an escape from family problems, and to fit in with their group of friends.
The Central Narcotics Bureau cited two reasons for the increase in younger abusers. Easy access to information about party drugs through the internet, and a growing acceptance of these drugs as a lifestyle choice.
Lim Poh Quee, executive director of the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, said: "I suppose society changes. The behaviour of youngsters change. You can see how the youth profile in Singapore have changed. Their values have also changed. For some of the younger ones, it's cool to take drugs."
Counsellors hope that proposed amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act - such as criminalising the organising of drug gatherings - will help tackle the problem.
CNB also said a Community Rehabilitation Centre will be set up for new younger abusers, who are assessed to be of moderate risk.
The CNB added that the current Direct Supervision Order (DSO) regime, which caters for new young drug abusers considered to be of low-risk, will be expanded to include compulsory casework and counselling, in addition to urine supervision.
This is aimed at reducing young abusers' risk of relapse in the longer term, and providing opportunities and intervention for the abuser to turn over a new leaf.
The Drug Rehabilitation Regime will also be restructured to segregate first-time abusers and more experienced abusers in order to mitigate any risk of contamination.
In-care rehabilitation programmes will be enhanced to emphasise the dangers of drug abuse, and to teach abusers coping strategies to reduce the chance of relapse. Those released will also be closely supervised through step-down residential programmes and home supervision, to help reintegrate them into society.
However, social workers and counsellors feel that more needs to be done.
Dr Balhetchet said: "What I feel is very important is trying to encourage their parents to come on board, their family members to come on board to act as a support system. When you're addicted to drugs, or anything else like alcohol or cigarettes, it's hard to manage the addiction on your own. You cannot walk that line alone, you need support."
Dr Balhetchet added that there should be more community agencies in the heartlands so that help will be easily available to young drug abusers and their families.
"It takes a village to bring up a normal child. Can you imagine if you have a child with problems? You'll need more than a village to help them. The question is how to enlist more people, how to enlist more agencies and train more to be able to identify and to be supportive to these youth and their families," she said.
By Kimberly Spykerman | Posted: 21 October 2012 1558 hrs, Channel News Asia