Emerging trends and concerns

  • Heroin and crystalline methamphetamine remain the two most commonly used drugs in Singapore. However, recent data indicate that crystalline methamphetamine might have replaced heroin as the most widely used drug in the country.
  • According to recent data on first-time drug-related arrestees, in Singapore, methamphetamine is the most frequently reported substance , accounting for approximately 80% of all cases.
  • International drug trafficking organizations continue to target Singapore as a transit location for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) into the region, even though there are some indications that Singapore might have become a less preferred transit route by drug trafficking groups in recent years. 
  • A growing number of new psychoactive substances (NPS) have been found in tablets sold as “ecstasy”1 in Singapore in recent years.

Overview of the drug situation

Heroin and methamphetamine remain the two most commonly used drugs in Singapore. In 2015, a total of 3,343 drug users were arrested in the country, of which 1,858 persons (56%) used methamphetamine and 1,253 (37%) persons used heroin. During the last five years, the number of arrestees for methamphetamine use in Singapore increased by approximately 60% while the number for heroin decreased by 35%. Although drug-related arrests are not a direct indicator of prevalence of use, this could indicate that methamphetamine is replacing heroin as the most widely used drug in the country (see figure 1). In addition, crystalline methamphetamine continued to be the most commonly used drug (70%) among all drug users arrested for the first time in 2015. According to preliminary figures from national authorities, nearly 80% (1,068 persons) of all drug users arrested for the first time (1,347 persons) used methamphetamine in 2016. Use of methamphetamine in tablet form and “ecstasy” are not indicated to be a significant problem in Singapore.

Figure 1. Drug users arrested for heroin and methamphetamine, 2011 – 2015

The number of persons admitted to drug treatment for methamphetamine use in Singapore has increased each year since 2005. In 2013, as a proportion of all persons in drug treatment, crystalline methamphetamine users accounted for about 49% (heroin users accounted for 36%), marking the first time since 2007 that the proportion of methamphetamine users in treatment was higher than that of heroin users. The trend continued in 2015 with methamphetamine users in treatment accounting for approximately 69% of the total, while heroin users accounted for only 19%. 

Table 1. Trend in use of specific drugs in Singapore, 2011-2015*

Following large seizures of crystalline methamphetamine in 2012 and 2013, a significantly lower amounts of the drug were seized by Singapore national authorities during the last two years. In 2015, a total of approximately 15.6 kg of crystalline methamphetamine was seized in the country, an approximately 24 % decrease compared to 2014 (12.5 kg), and 65% lower than the amounts seized in 2013 (44.1kg). However, the amount of crystalline methamphetamine destined for the local market has been on the rise in recent years: 8.9 kg in 2013, 9.2 kg in 2014 and 15.6 kg in 2015 . Thus, the overall decrease in seizures of crystalline methamphetamine in the previous two years might be due to the strengthened efforts of the Government of Singapore to tackle methamphetamine trafficking transiting the country. For instance, according to the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB), there are indications that West African drug trafficking syndicates have been using Singapore less frequently as a transit for methamphetamine trafficking, which may have resulted in the overall decreases in methamphetamine seizures in 2014 and 2015. However, new trafficking routes for crystalline methamphetamine by air embarking from either China or Hong Kong, China, and transiting Singapore to reach other countries, including Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Japan and Russia, have been observed. According to preliminary figures from national authorities, approximately 18.3 kg of crystalline methamphetamine were seized in the country.

The overall trends of methamphetamine tablet seizures in Singapore show similar trends with those of crystalline methamphetamine. The amounts seized in 2014 (248 tablets) and 2015 (142 tablets) were significantly less than in 2013, when the seizures peaked with 22,020 tablets.  The number of ‘ecstasy’ tablets seized in 2015 (2,943 tablets) was also the lowest during the last five years and significantly less than in 2013 (7,327 tablets).

According to the Government of Singapore, there is no known manufacture of illicit drugs in the country and illicit drugs are mostly f trafficked from neighbouring countries. Furthermore, in 2014, there were 9 drug trafficking cases involving postal services, where the shipments were suspected to have been ordered online through the Internet.

Table 2. Drug treatment admissions by drug type in Singapore, 2011-2015

While the trafficking and use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) is not currently a major problem in Singapore, it is certainly on the increase. The appearance of synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones were first reported in Singapore in 2011, while use of the plant-based substance kratom was first reported before 2008. The trafficking and use of ketamine has for several years been of concern, is currently indicated to be limited in terms of its use and but reported as one of several NPS found in tablets sold as “ecstasy” in Singapore. In recent years, the number of exhibits containing NPS encountered in Singapore has increased substantially. For instance, in 2014, a total of 214 exhibits containing NPS were detected in Singapore, an 80% increase compared to 2011 when 47 exhibits containing NPS were encountered. According to CNB, in 2015, 3,172 tablets and 3.54 kg of NPS were seized in the country, representing significant increases in comparison to 2014 when 470 tablets and 114.4 g of NPS, mostly belonging to the synthetic cannabinoid and synthetic cathinone groups, were seized.   In 2015, 20 NPS were identified in the country for the first time, including 3 synthetic cannabinonids (MDMB-CHMICA, NM-2201, and CBM-2201) and 3 tryptamines (AMT, DMT, and 5-MeO-MiPT).  

Recognizing the increasing threats of NPS, the Government of Singapore introduced the Fifth Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) in May 2013) to allow the authorities to list a new psychoactive substance for a period of 12 months, with the possibility of an extension for another 12 months. The CNB has the power to seize NPS listed in the Fifth Schedule in order to restrict  their circulation. The trafficking, manufacture, importing, exporting, possession or consumption of any substance listed in the Fifth Schedule does not constitute an offence under the MDA. However, that changes when substances are moved from the Fifth Schedule to a schedule with stricter controls.. For instance, effective as of 1 May 2016, a generic group of tryptamines and 22 psychoactive substances have been added to the First Schedule of MDA, of which 20 substances were previously scheduled in the Fifth Schedule. In addition, 4 substances, MDMB-CHMICA, THJ-018, NM-2201 (and its fluoro positional isomers in the pentyl group) and 5F-NNE1 (and its fluoro positional isomers in the pentyl group), were newly listed in the Fifth Schedule.

Table 3. Seizures of selected illicit drugs in Singapore, 2011-2015

Crystalline methamphetamine samples analysed in 2015 had an average purity of about 78% of methamphetamine, similar to the figure reported in 2014 (77%). Over the last five years, the average proportion of methamphetamine found in tablets ranged between 2.7 % and 7.5%. In 2015, the average proportion of methamphetamine in tablet samples was 5.6% of methamphetamine. Singapore reported a  (MDMA) purity of 36% for ‘ecstasy’ in 2015, a significant increase compared to figures reported in the four preceding years (15.7 to 24.2%). This steep increase requires further research, e.g. to better understand if this development indicates a greater MDMA availability.

The retail price of methamphetamine has been stable in recent years. In 2015, the street retail price of a gram of crystalline methamphetamine in the country ranged from USD 150 to USD 180 and the average price of one methamphetamine tablet was USD 20. The street retail price of ‘ecstasy’ has been stable over the last five years ranging between USD 25 and USD 30 per tablet.