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‘I want to change … and I need help’: The repeat drug abusers on a mission to stay clean

‘I want to change … and I need help’: The repeat drug abusers on a mission to stay clean

Alan (left) and Farhan at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

SINGAPORE: For more than two years, Farhan* was clean.

In 2011, he was arrested and sent to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) for consuming cannabis. He spent seven months there and another five at home, observing a curfew with an electronic tag strapped around his ankle.

Then it was another 15 months of Central Narcotics Bureau supervision and regular urine tests. Farhan passed it all and finally he was a free man.

It was the start of a new life. Or at least it was supposed to be.

“All of a sudden, I met my party friends whom I used to skateboard with,” Farhan told reporters on Jan 9 in an air-conditioned room within the DRC. “So when we skate, we had some (cannabis) joints and substances like cough syrup.”

Together with a lack of self-discipline, time management and meaningful commitments, Farhan started taking drugs again, and soon found himself getting sucked into his old life.

“I was really hooked because I have this difficulty of controlling myself when it comes to opium-based substances (like cough syrup),” he said. “So when I got the cough syrup, I topped it up myself and drank more and more.”

In 2018, he was arrested and sent to the DRC again for consuming cannabis, this time for 18 months.


Now 30, Farhan has about six months left of his sentence, which he will spend at the Jamiyah Halfway House in Pasir Panjang. This is part of the DRC regime, which requires inmates to spend the tail end of their sentence in the community to prepare them for reintegration into society.

Entrance of the Drug Rehabilitation Centre. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

On Jan 15, Parliament passed changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act that would allow recalcitrant drug abusers – who have been caught three times or more, but do not face other criminal charges – to be sent for rehabilitation instead of being put in jail.

The move hopes to put a greater focus on rehabilitation and reduce the relapse rate for drug abusers. DRC was previously reserved for first or second-time offenders.

READ: More inmates expected at drug rehab centre; more manpower needed for programmes

For repeat offenders like Farhan, the DRC regime will be more intensive, with more classes on coping skills and being assertive around friends to deal with their addiction. The classes have taught Farhan well.

“Whenever we bump into friends with drugs, we can be firmer,” said the former hydraulics specialist. “After you undergo this life (in prison), when you know you’ve been given a lot of chances to surface again, why not use the time and take it as a challenge?”

The room stayed silent as Farhan, sporting closely cropped hair and a baggy, plain white T-shirt, spoke to reporters sat around him in a loose circle. Then it was time to listen to the man next to him.


Alan* had the same hairstyle and attire, but his biceps and chest bulged through his T-shirt. His arms were covered with skulls and peonies, shaded on one arm and outlined on the other.

Like Farhan he was also in the DRC for the second time. But unlike Farhan he had on both occasions been sent there for consuming methamphetamine.

Now 27, Alan has been in DRC for 11 months, and will spend the remaining seven months in the community at another halfway house called Breakthrough Missions.

Farhan (left) and Alan speaking to their personal supervisor (casework). (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

But things used to be different for Alan, who ran a chicken rice stall and is married with a one-year-old son. “I miss him a lot,” he said. “But I have to face my problems down here in order for me to have a long stay outside.”

The DRC emphasises the importance of family in the rehabilitation process, and thus tries to involve them along the way. Inmates also attend family programmes to help build stronger ties with their loved ones.

Alan (left) and Farhan telling their stories. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

Through these classes, Alan said he’s beginning to understand his wife’s “love language”, allowing them to connect on a deeper and more intimate level. This also helps with his drug problem, especially as he turned to methamphetamine to deal with family issues.

“When I had too much free time, I started to mix around with my friends,” he said. “I started from cough syrup, then slowly went back to ice again. I also took it to escape reality when I was having problems with my family.”


Ms Lau Kuan Mei, who leads a team of DRC counsellors responsible for developing and implementing the intervention programmes, said the belief that drugs can help deal with certain situations is one factor that leads to relapse.

Ms Lau Kuan Mei speaking to media. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

“That’s why we teach them emotional management skills,” she said. “The ideal is for them to be aware that such thoughts (of not getting hooked) exist, and for them to maintain more helpful thinking that can help dispute these thoughts.”

To prevent re-offending, Ms Lau said it helps to have positive relationships with friends and family, as well as job stability and a structured, routine lifestyle. “And having that sense of self-belief that they can quit drugs,” she added.


For Alan, what keeps him going is a determination to turn over a new leaf.

“To carry on is to want to change,” he said. “I note that I have a drug use problem, so yes I want to change first, I’m very difficult to change and I need help.”

Moving forward, Alan said he’s focused on learning as much as possible from the classes and finishing his sentence. After getting out, he wants to prioritise his career and spending time with his wife and son.

“After that, I can save up some money and start my chicken rice stall again. Maybe in five years’ time, I can run my own restaurant,” he added with a smile.

Inmates can speak to family members via teleconferencing. (Photo: Marcus Ramos)

Farhan is also truly beginning to understand the importance of family, as he admitted they weren’t a priority when he was free.

His mother has heart problems, he said, but never fails to see him during the two 20- to 30-minute visits inmates usually get each month, either face-to-face or through a computer screen.

Farhan stated that his mum always puts on a brave face despite her ill health. “She has the strength to come and visit me,” he added, his voice tinged with admiration and regret.

READ: ‘Doing the right thing has never been easy for me’: A serial convict’s journey

When asked if their second DRC stint will help them steer clear of drugs for good, Alan said: “To be honest with you, it depends on ourselves, the individual.”

Farhan cut in mid-sentence, eager to give his input.

“If we undergo this type of rehab, part of us will say it’s enough; part of us will say it’s not,” he said. “What I mean is we will know better when we step out in real world.

“And we know what drugs are. So to really get a proper understanding of what it means to be away from drugs, it will be a challenge.”

*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

Source: CNA/hz


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