10 Nov 2005

Drug abuse prevalence and the death penalty

Au Waipang questions the assumptions of creationists:

The data for drug abuse prevalence rates are taken from the website of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
(UNODC)
. The numbers are estimates of the percentage of a country's population, aged 15 – 64, who are hooked on opiate drugs (which includes heroin).

The columns on the right relating to the death penalty are from Amnesty International's website.

Singapore indeed has a low rate of drug abuse. Only about 0.1 percent of our population are considered to have so succumbed. But this is also the case for Finland, Sweden and Mexico. Yet these countries do not need the death penalty to enjoy the same low rates of drug abuse.

An interesting table of data compiled at Yawning Bread surveys the drug abuse prevalence in 19 countries including Singapore and will immediately ask the question to those so eager to believe that the death penalty is an efficient deterrent, why it is that:

1. Countries such as Mexico, Sweden and Finland are able to achieve the same prevalence rate (0.1%) as Singapore without the use of the death penalty; and

2. Countries such as China (0.2%), Malaysia (0.2%) and Thailand (0.5%) have higher prevalences than Singapore despite enacting the death penalty on drug traffickers.

Assuming that the death penalty should be the first line of defence against the trafficking of drugs and its availability to the population neglects many other factors that may dominate the observed low drug prevalence. The conclusion is that the death penalty most certainly cannot be the prevailing factor in deterring drug abuse. And yet it is still the death penalty supporters who insist that without the death penalty, the fabric of society will collapse to the drug trade.

the death penalty may not be the cause of scarce availability of drugs in SG. They could simply co-exist, analogous to the co-existence of dark clouds and rain. Could there be more direct causes?

a) Increased vigilance in customs inspection for drugs
b) Improved use of technology in drugs detection
c) Increased police manpower for Central Narcotics Bureau
d) Increased collaboration within ASEAN on sharing of information on drug syndicates
e) Stricter penalties against personal drugs consumption
f) Increased public education on dangers of drugs consumption
g) Improving social conditions in SG (conditions that encourage drug use)

These are indeed simple yet important factors suggested by mrdarren that the same people brush away so easily without a moment's thought. These hypotheses in addition to Waipang's findings will never be concrete evidence to prove the death penalty inefficient; only Singapore's own statistics on execution rates can do that. But they do show the complexity of the issue. And certainly one that cannot easily be tackled by assumptions.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

I wonder what basis is there to make a comparison between Singapore and the same low rates of drug abuse in such countries as Finland, Sweden and Mexico. Drug abuse and addiction have historical and cultural roots. The older generation in Singapore would remember the existence of Opium dens lining Victoria and Bencoolen streets during the British colonial era just over 40 years ago. Many large British trading houses of olde actively traded in Opium - the selling of it to native Asians (hence the Opium wars) - in Burma (Myanmar), Malaya, and Hong Kong during the colonial period. The addiction to the drug by large numbers of Chinese was carried over from generation to generation. It was only in an independent Singapore and the coming into being of tough anti-drug laws that rampant drug abuse was scaled back dramatically. I am not sure what historical and cultural roots Finland, Sweden and Mexico have had with regard to the problem of drug abuse/addiction. But I wonder whether the comparison of their low rates of abuse/addiction with that of Singapore's is apt.

mrdarren said...
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mrdarren said...

let us pressure the government to show proof that death penalty as deterrence works, whether for murder or drug trafficking. Because all scientific studies conducted thus far indicates that death penalty does not work as deterrence. We cannot just assume it works here. At least be responsible for the lives executed (over 400 and counting according to AI) and conduct some local studies to the effect! Don't just release a letter to Australia stating your conclusions, without justifying the basis of your reasoning. This is what an honest and intelligent government should do.

Anonymous said...

mrdarren, the only point I am in agreement with you on is the need for local studies on the subject. Whatever "scientific studies" that have been conducted elsewhere might have absolutely zero applicability to the Singapore situation because, as my initial post above yours has already mentioned, of the historical and cultural context, among other contexts (such as the efficiency or otherwise of law enforcement in a geographically compact city-state as against the sprawling nature of larger sovereign entities).

clyde said...

You seem to have neglected some of the factors mentioned by mrdarren, which could equally if not more, have played a part in cleaning up the rampant drug abuse 40 years ago. But do you suspect that if the death penalty were abolished, we would fall back to the same opium-infested society and resume our culture of drugs?

You are absolutely right that statistical trends in one country cannot be applied to another. Too many variables make it impossible. And cultural history is just but one of them. But the difference in Waipang's findings is that no trend is involved. He has not established a direct relationship between the death penalty and prevalency of addicts. His measure of deterrence is only relative to other countries. But for the purpose of showing that the death penalty is not the only factor, it is a valid comparison.

strom said...

"Because all scientific studies conducted thus far indicates that death penalty does not work as deterrence."

I actually agree with you becuz the most desperate folks out there - being so desperate - may not give a fig about their lives anymore, maybe they have a freudian death wish, i dunno, but maybe it's also a societal responsibility to bring them back from the brink. By the way, I'd appreciate it if you can provide a link to the "scientific studies" for my perusal.

But anyway, the countries you mentioned - Finland, Sweden and Mexico - they do not lie in a "Golden Triangle" of drug-producing countries unlike ours, maybe Mexico to Colombia... but still, that can't be compared to our proximities to Burma, Cambodia and Thailand. Furthermore, we're also the financial hub of SEA.

Anonymous said...

clyde, there have been public education campaigns of one sort or another in Singapore, and most do not work without punitive action. Only the introduction of severe penalties (including jail terms and repossession of HDB flats) did the killer litter problem, for example, get licked. On mrdarren's increased customs surveillance: one only sees that at the land border checkpoints. On the other hand, Customs personnel presence at Changi Airport is considered one of the lightest of any international airport in the world (any seasoned traveller will attest to that; and the vast majority of people arriving at Changi will tell you that they are never ever stopped by Singapore Customs. Nguyen was caught by security personnel at his Departure Gate when he set off the metal detector and not by Singapore Customs). In fact, if you compare that to Sydney airport for example, there is something like 8-10 times more Customs personnel, supplemented by sniffer dogs, at Sydney airport than at Changi; and many people (especially Asians) are hassled on arrival at Sydney. Yet, despite that, occasionally you still get news reports of abandoned luggage at the carousels at Changi; and when the airport authorites open up the luggage after a period of time they discover a stash of hardcore drugs. Did the courier suddenly, at the last moment, lose his nerve at the thought of the noose around his neck? Easing up on the tough drug laws of today may not lead us back to 40 years ago, but if easing up on something is viewed by some quarters that the authorities are getting soft on the problem, why ease up on it? By the way, to be specific and not theoretical, the main sharing of information and cooperation between law enforcement agencies within the ASEAN states is between the Malaysian and Singapore police forces (especially CID, and this has worked well). Singapore doesn't even have an extradition treaty with Indonesia; and some Singaporean crooks are still able to get away to Thailand and, after so many years, still remain uncaught.

Gilbert Koh said...

I imagine that if the PM's press secretary had to write a public response to this post, he would probably say something like this:

"Yes we are of the view that in our anti-drug efforts, all these things:

a) Increased vigilance in customs inspection for drugs
b) Improved use of technology in drugs detection
c) Increased police manpower for Central Narcotics Bureau
d) Increased collaboration within ASEAN on sharing of information on drug syndicates
e) Stricter penalties against personal drugs consumption
f) Increased public education on dangers of drugs consumption
g) Improving social conditions in SG (conditions that encourage drug use)

... are extremely important, just like capital punishment. We will continue to tackle the drug problem on all fronts.

As mentioned in the studies cited by Au Waipang, even the United Nation agrees that Singapore's rates of drug abuse are among the lowest in the world and this shows the success of our overall anti-drug strategy."

Etc etc.

Gilbert Koh said...

Anyone notice that countries like Finland and Sweden are excellent counter-examples to so many standard PAP arguments?

They don't pay their ministers world-class salaries, yet their governments are ranked to be less-corrupt than ours ...

They don't have streaming in their education systems, yet their education systems are internationally better regarded than ours ...

They have plenty of freedom and democracy, yet they are economically competitive as us ...

They don't have the death penalty, yet their rates of drug abuse are as low as ours ....

Anonymous said...

gilbert koh, Finland and Sweden are also excellent examples to some of their other European neighbours, such as France and Germany, which have so many social problems, such as the recent race riots in France... But then blonde haired, blue-eyed individuals walking the streets are what you will see in Finland and Sweden, and not the much more multiracial mix noticeable in France, Germany (enormous numbers of Turks in Germany), and, dare I say it, Singapore. Again, it would be useful if people tried comparing like with like...

somebody said...

Anon, I'm not sure what you're trying to say re blonde, blue-eyed people. Your comment sounds a tad racist. Pls clarify.

Anonymous said...

somebody said, it's simple really: How can you compare the situation in different countries where in some the population is relatively homogeneous whereas in others they are heterogeneous (multiracial). Can a comparison be then made? Not really...

Mr Wang Says So said...

I think it all depends on what you're interested in comparing.

If you're interested in comparing the level of racial/religious harmony, then obviously it may not be very meaningful to compare Finland/Sweden to Singapore.

But if you're interested in studying, say, the relationship or non-relationship between ministerial salaries and corruption level,

or whether the death sentence indeed leads to lower rates of drug abuse,

well, I don't see how the racial composition is relevant. Therefore I can't see why we shouldn't compare Finland/Sweden to Singapore.

Unless of course Anonymous has some theory about how some races are naturally more afraid of death than other races; or some races are simply more prone to drug trafficking than others; or some races are naturally more inclined to be corrupt than others.

Which sounds .... rather bizarre to me, I should say.

somebody said...

Anon, do you mean that ethnic heterogeneity translates into harsher social experiences and economic conditions because of exclusion and discrimination, and that such social suffering is associated with drug use? I hope this is what you mean, otherwise your argument sounds pretty racist to me.

mrdarren said...
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mrdarren said...

"On the other hand, Customs personnel presence at Changi Airport is considered one of the lightest of any international airport in the world (any seasoned traveller will attest to that; and the vast majority of people arriving at Changi will tell you that they are never ever stopped by Singapore Customs. Nguyen was caught by security personnel at his Departure Gate when he set off the metal detector and not by Singapore Customs)."

Why not conduct stricter customs checks? We should be vigilent checking for terrorists smuggling in plastic explosives just as much as we check for drug traffickers.

Also, someone suggested in a letter to Today (9 Nov) that SG should grant advertise at Changi airport that all drug traffickers who turn themselves in with their drugs and provide leads or information on the drug syndicate will be granted legal immunity from prosecution.

I think this is a practical and fair solution . At least there's a chance given to drug traffickers, who often fit the profile of being desperate and foolish. We go after the druglords in this way. The druglords will think twice about sending drugs into/through SG if theres a higher chance of the couriers squealing on them.

I'm trying to point out that there are more creative and effective ways to deal with the drugs trade than simply punishing the courier with the ultimate death sentence.

Anonymous said...

Copyright 2005 Nationwide News Pty Limited
The Courier Mail (Queensland, Australia)

November 11, 2005 Friday

SECTION: FEATURES; Pg. 21

LENGTH: 572 words

HEADLINE: A life in our hands

BYLINE: Tor Hundloe

PRIME Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer tell us there is no more they -- or the Australian Government -- can do to save the life of Nguyen Tuong Van, the Australian drug carrier in prison in Singapore.

If that is the case, it is in the hands of you and me to act. As a mainstay of Singaporean tourism and significant customers on Singapore Airline flights, we just might have more influence than governments.

Governments have to travel lightly when it comes to the internal affairs of foreign governments. Consumers and customers are free to express their disapproval with a simple "no thanks, you have a wonderful country, great shops and one of the world's best airlines, but your attitudes to drug mules is morally abhorrent, and, sorry, we are taking our business elsewhere".

I have not written this lightly. I have spent much of my professional life being involved in our neighbouring countries. And I have focused on helping these countries develop tourism. It was as recently as August this year that I paid for, organised and accompanied a group of Asian tourism people in a study mission to Australia. They visited various attractions such as Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, Couran Cove resort, the Gold Coast and Binna Burra.

I am now gearing up for a mission in Bali next month which hopefully will go some way to rescue its tourism from a black-ban by Australian visitors. Of course, I would prefer that the Singaporean rulers would sit down with us and debate the moral issues involved in killing a person who intended no harm whatsoever to their country and was in transit to ours.

The drugs he was carrying were for Australian customers. Had he been apprehended in Australia he would have faced a relatively minor sentence.

The fact that Van wished no harm to anyone in Singapore is a fundamental issue in jurisprudence. The only jurisprudential authority I can find for Singapore punishing this person -- and in fact punishing his innocent mother for the rest of her life -- is that Singaporean authorities wanted to stop him committing a crime in Australia. Unless Australian authorities requested this, such action would carry no legal weight in a morally-sanctioned system of justice.

It was always an option for the Singaporean authorities to notify the Australian Customs people of his flight number and, hence, satisfy any obligations they have to Australia. For those who query the moral and legal thrust of my appeal, the thing to do is put yourself in the shoes of the kid's mother. She will suffer all her life. The kid's suffering will end with the gallows.

Kim Nguyen is a refugee from Vietnam. She surely has suffered enough through living through a war to which we were a party. We have a high degree of moral responsibility to make her life bearable.

Also consider the so-called crime of carrying drugs. While we all might consider drug-taking stupid -- so is swimming in crocodile-infested rivers -- some people want to do it. In market-based economies, such as ours, the consumer is sovereign.

Do we kill someone, in this case of Nguyen Tuong Van, because of the stupidity of drug-takers? Surely not.

The University of Queensland's Professor Tor Hundloe undertook a comprehensive study of tourism in Australia 10 years ago when he was a Productivity Commission commissioner. In 2002 he was awarded an Order of Australia for his contribution to eco-tourism

Anonymous said...

somebody, demographic heterogeneity means complexity in managing ethnic, religious, and cultural norms and mores, as France has recently discovered. And I am quite sure the French would not like it if someone were to tell them, but look at Finland and Sweden, things are all sweetness and light there, why can't you French do the same? Thus, I do not feel that trying to compare societies which have little in common is useful.

mrdarren said...

"Also consider the so-called crime of carrying drugs. While we all might consider drug-taking stupid -- so is swimming in crocodile-infested rivers -- some people want to do it. In market-based economies, such as ours, the consumer is sovereign.

Do we kill someone, in this case of Nguyen Tuong Van, because of the stupidity of drug-takers? Surely not."

It is time we shifted the focus of our drugs war on the drug users and drug lords.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that in Australia, a university professor refers to a person who takes illicit drugs as a "consumer", and one who is "sovereign". I think this gives renewed understanding to the notion of "The tyranny of distance", which is often applied to Australia. In this instance it is not just geographic distance but distance from reality.

Anonymous said...

This was what Mr Wang wrote in another article -"Clemency for Took" : "In the context of capital cases / death sentences etc, you go on a slippery slope and end up killing your own cause when you start examining the seriousness of the crime.

So Nguyen deserves to be saved?

What if one, or two, or more of the following is true?

1. His brother is not so sick, after all. It was just a case of [dengue].

2. Nguyen isn't so innocent-looking. Actually he has a somewhat mean and ugly-looking face, and doesn't look so good on a poster.

3. Nguyen admits that the profits he would have personally made from successfully trafficking the drugs would not only pay for his brother's medical expenses, but also finance the purchase of his new Ferrari, his dream car.

4. Nguyen has several past convictions for serious crimes, eg rape.

5. Nguyen has several past convictions for not-so-serious crimes.

6. Nguyen reveals that in fact, he has trafficked drugs successfully through Singapore several times. This is the first time he got caught.

7. Nguyen was caught not for 400 grams of heroin. But 1,000 g or 1 kg - in an elaborate scheme where the drugs were shipped in boxes under the pretext that he was a business importing legitimate goods for trade.

8. Nguyen's mother tells the press, "I am not surprised. He is a terrible person. He has done so many bad things throughout his life. I've always told him, stay away from those triads, but no, all along his dream was to become one of the triad leaders! I believe that he would kill to get there. He's told me that he's been involved in triad battles, even shot some people ....!"
..........................................Your cause will collapse around your own ears. "

***********************************
I could tell from the style you wrote eversince when this website was initially spotted by people. I noticed that you love to argue for the sake of arguing most of time. I believe you're pretty young at age. I could excuse in this aspect but pls be more sensible! I repeat: If you could not offer your help in any way, for at least do not harm by insulting others' appearance. You don't seem to see the seriousness and urgency of an issue such as "life and death" when all of us were trying so hard to help Nyugen for the last 1-2 weeks in whatever way we can. Anywhere, I'm not at all interested to read what you wrote in your blog. You may wish to express your opinion and argue on other less important issue. Thanks and bye for the time being.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Do you even UNDERSTAND the point of what you just quoted from me? I think you have difficulty. Go back to that post and read my very first comment therein.

clyde said...

"demographic heterogeneity means complexity in managing ethnic, religious, and cultural norms and mores, as France has recently discovered. And I am quite sure the French would not like it if someone were to tell them, but look at Finland and Sweden, things are all sweetness and light there, why can't you French do the same? Thus, I do not feel that trying to compare societies which have little in common is useful."

You're grabbing the wrong end of the stick here. Race riots and racial segregation would bring into the picture a whole different set of contributors related to racial tension. If these factors were the same in France, Finland, Sweden etc, then one could ask why France is facing problems today (or why Sweden and Finland don't have race riots).

In the context of drug abuse, your argument implies that "complexity in managing ethnic, religious, and cultural norms and mores" would have an effect on the prevalency of drug abuse. A more valid argument would be to ask if the factors mentioned by mrdarren are constant in these countries. If they were, then one would expect the death penalty to have the same effect in ALL countries. Waipang's findings indicate otherwise. He makes no assertions that it is evidence of an inefficient death penalty in Singapore.

mrdarren said...

Strom,

"By the way, I'd appreciate it if you can provide a link to the "scientific studies" for my perusal."

A good place to start your research would be "Facts and figures on the Death Penalty" from AI website. http://web.amnesty.org/pages/deathpenalty-facts-eng

See point 7 & 8 especially:

7. The deterrence argument
Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded: ". . .it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment."

(Reference: Roger Hood, The Death Penalty: A World-wide Perspective, Oxford, Clarendon Press, third edition, 2002, p. 230)

Also, check out "Facts about Deterrence and the Death Penalty" from Death Penalty Information Center.
http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=12&did=167

Keep us posted on the findings of your perusal.

Anonymous said...

Dear clyde, if you'd like to backtrack a bit, my comments were directly in response to gilbert koh's set of points as to why Finland and Sweden were better than Singapore. He extended the arguement to beyond the drug issue. He had a whole template there. (If he did not extend the argument to beyond the drug issue, I guess this seeming confusion would not arise.) My point is that those countries are no basis for comparison whatsoever, not least because Singapore is simply a more complex society, especially in its demographics. A simple point, but obviously it has got lost in the background clutter. Have a good weekend...

Gilbert Koh said...

Okay, then I take it that as far as death sentence and drug abuse rates are concerned, you agree that race is an irrelevant factor and it would be perfectly sensible to compare the situation in Singapore with the situation in Finland/Sweden.

Thanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

gilbert koh, my point, and I have to repeat it, is this: the historical and cultural legacy of drug abuse in Singapore during colonial times (which was the very first point I made in this thread) makes the basis for comparison between Singapore and Finland/Sweden not relevant. I will stand corrected on that if someone tells me that historically those countries had a similar drug abuse problem going back decades. The point being that Singapore's drug abuse problem was at one time significant. It came down. Why? Some would say because of the tough penalties.

Gilbert Koh said...

Oh, I see your point now. Sorry for not reading more carefully earlier.

However, I still somewhat disagree with you. I think that your line of thinking at best explains why, in the past, we needed the death sentence whereas Finland did not (the reason being that in the past, we had a very big drug problem, whereas Finland did not).

However, now that both countries have already achieved similarly low rates of drug abuse, your line of thinking sheds no light on this interesting question:

how come Finland can keep its drug abuse rates low, without the death penalty -

while Singapore (supposedly) cannot?

Or perhaps we can frame the question this way:

Is it really necessary for Singapore, in the year 2005, to retain the death penalty in order to keep its drug abuse rates low? The Finnish example suggests not.

Of course, if you assert that the average Singaporean drug addict today picked up the habit due to the evil influence of his great-grandfather transmitted via his grandfather ... and Finland has no equivalents of such evil great-grandfathers and grandfathers ... well, I suppose that is an interesting argument ... possible, but it sounds a bit dubious to me ...

clyde said...

"the historical and cultural legacy of drug abuse in Singapore during colonial times (which was the very first point I made in this thread) makes the basis for comparison between Singapore and Finland/Sweden not relevant. I will stand corrected on that if someone tells me that historically those countries had a similar drug abuse problem going back decades."

Yes anonymous, but you are questioning the validity of the comparison on the wrong grounds. If you were trying to show if the death penalty is efficient/inefficient, all other variables have to be the same for all countries (hence why it's not feasible to compare for this purpose and such comparisons would be invalid). Waipang however is showing that the death penalty cannot be the only factor in the observed drug abuse prevalence. The past culture of drugs may very well be a factor in drug prevalency even though i think it highly unlikely. But it only adds to Waipang's conclusion that the death penalty cannot be the prevailing factor.

Anon 8.01 says:
"Customs personnel presence at Changi Airport is considered one of the lightest of any international airport in the world (any seasoned traveller will attest to that; and the vast majority of people arriving at Changi will tell you that they are never ever stopped by Singapore Customs."

And yet they held up one of my relatives just the other day because they were checking all imbound luggage from South Thailand (That must be what those x-ray machines are for in the baggage claim area)! Yes, ignoring the standard x-ray procedures for check-in and carry-on baggage, Australia probably does have higher measures to monitor baggage content. So if Aussie customs are really more efficient than Sinapore's, why do they suffer higher prevalency of drug abuse in the country? It's a fallacy to deduce something about the death penalty from the mere observation of another factor (customs inspections). For every trafficker who leaves his cocaine-packed luggage at the carousel, how many dump theirs at Sydney's airport thinking: I'm surely going to get caught! Rather, I would attribute it to Australia's massive border-size compared to Singapore, which allows more access for drug routes.

But like I keep saying, we can throw up any number of logical explanations that only statistics will have the final say. I have to admire the fact that you are the first to actually attempt to tackle any of mcdarren's factors though.

Anonymous said...

clyde, thanks. At least you are one of the few people on this site I am not talking at cross-purposes. We are talking to each other's points, even though with different interpretations. And most importantly, we are very civil about it, which is as it should be and which I do appreciate.

The point about false comparisons is simply this: Mr Au has merely taken a snapshot of statistics of the situation in Finland, Sweden, Mexico and Singapore today (and I did a search on google and I know where he got the stats from), and they show that drug use per capita of population is about the same in each of the countries. A snapshot today proves little. (But if people are satisfied with that level of analysis, then I can say nothing.) What we must and should know is what has been the progression that has got us to this point today. You know what I am getting at and so I am not going to elaborate, as I've stated the point at least twice on this thread.

Secondly, you hint at the very answer when you ask why Australia suffers higher drug prevalency... Some would say that the inadequacy of the penalties is the reason. And, following on from that, if people know that the penalty for bringing in drugs into the country isn't as severe as in certain Asian countries, then why not try and make a go of it? That consequently has forced Australian Customs to have a very heavy Customs personnel presence at their international airports to ferret out the drugs from in-coming passengers.

One point I will concede to you though: you are probably right when you say that some people do at the last moment dispose of illicit drugs when they suddenly see a phalanx of Customs officers at an Aussie airport.

Ultimately, I hope whoever is on whichever side of this debate, that they are able to argue their points out of conviction and not out of impulse.

Goodnight and take care.