Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, at the National Addictions Awareness Day, 23 November 2013, Saturday, 9.45am

Dr Amy Khor,
Mayor of South West district

Mr Alex Yam,
Adviser to Yew Tew GROs

Associate Professor Chua Hong Choon,
Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Mental Health,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Introduction

1.            Good morning. I am pleased to be here to launch the inaugural National Addictions Awareness Day, or NAAD for short.

Incidence of Addictions in Singapore

2.            Addiction is an illness that affects a person physically and psychologically. A person can become addicted to either substances such as drugs and alcohol, or certain activities such as gambling or gaming. The illness can become long-standing if not treated early.

3.            Population-based data on alcohol use disorders and problem gambling released in recent years have given us an insight into the size of the problem in Singapore. The Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS) conducted in 2010 showed that some 3.1% of the Singapore population aged 18 years old and above may suffer from alcohol abuse at some point in their lives, while 0.5% may suffer from alcohol dependence. The study also showed a large gap in help-seeking behaviour among those with alcohol abuse – 96% of those affected were not seeking help.

4.            As for gambling, the 2011 National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) survey on gambling participation among Singapore residents found that about 1.4% of adult residents were probable pathological gamblers, and another 1.2% were in the less severe category of probable problem gamblers. The survey also showed that frequent gamblers and probable pathological gamblers (also known as PPGs) were more likely to have poor self-control in gambling as compared to non-frequent gamblers and non PPGs.

Early Intervention and Social Support for People with Addictions

5.            While the numbers may seem low, we are concerned that many of those with addiction are not seeking help.

6.            An addiction affects not just the addicted person, but everyone close to him. Children, in particular, are greatly affected when a parent develops an addiction. An overseas study has estimated that between 10 to 15 persons are directly affected by a person with an addiction. This includes his family and relatives, friends and colleagues.

7.            Addiction is a multi-faceted condition that requires a multi-modal intervention that consists of upstream prevention, pharmacological intervention, psychological intervention such as social support groups, and practical management such as social safeguards.  For less severe forms of addictions, non-medical interventions such as social support from the family and community play important roles in the recovery of these cases.  

Role of the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) and Involvement of Community Partners

8.            MOH funded the set-up of the National Addictions Management Service (NAMS) at IMH in 2008 to provide a multidisciplinary assessment and treatment service for addiction cases. As the national treatment centre for addictions, NAMS sees an average of 1,200 new cases of addictions per year.

9.            Their treatment outcomes have been positive. Data from NAMS has shown that over 50% of patients who sought help for their addiction reported a better quality of life in just three months. After three months of treatment, 68% of alcohol addiction patients said they had quit or reduced their drinking, 76% of patients who sought help for gambling addiction improved, and 8 out of 10 patients were less dependent on drugs. These data show that individuals who seek out and comply with treatment for their addiction can receive an effective boost for their recovery. We hope more patients with addiction problems will come forward to seek help.

10.         Besides NAMS, there are also other numerous avenues of help which can be found both in and through the community. People who need help for an addiction can approach a polyclinic, general practitioner, Family Service Centre, their school counsellor, and other community agencies, and get a referral to NAMS where required. There is also the National Problem Gambling Helpline and the All Addictions Helpline, which offer advice and information on addictions.

11.         To strengthen the network that provides a continuity of care for persons with addictions, NAMS works closely and engages regularly with government agencies, Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs), halfway houses, and other community partners through open houses and dialogue meetings.

12.         For example, the South West Community Development Council (CDC), in partnership with NAMS, has rolled out a new programme with 20 grassroots leaders and volunteers to better reach out to and help residents with addictions.  These grassroots leaders and volunteers were trained to use a pocket-sized resource toolkit to recognise signs of such addictions, and to advise and assist them with relevant help resources available in the community. They also learned practical tips on how to approach and motivate residents who may not be ready to seek help.

13.         I am glad that with such active engagement, we see many partners who are here supporting today’s event. I would like to acknowledge the good work done by healthcare professionals and community partners in the management and continuity of care for people with addictions.

14.         It is necessary for all stakeholders to work hand-in-hand in order to reach out effectively to the community, as we work towards early detection and timely intervention so that Singaporeans can live out the mantra, “More to Life – Without an Addiction”, just as the campaign tagline goes.  Residents can play a part too, by becoming more knowledgeable about addictions and encouraging those who may have an addiction problem to seek help.

Conclusion

15.         The new awareness ribbon we are launching today is a visual reminder of hope for those suffering from addictions and their families, and also for the general public, that one can choose to live a fulfilling life without being trapped by an addiction. As social support for recovery from an addiction is crucial, I urge all of us to lend our fullest support to those around us who may be suffering from an addiction. The road to recovery is often a long and difficult one, with many setbacks and relapses, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Let us be the one to encourage them not only to seek help, but to persevere and break the chains of addiction to lead a fuller life.

Thank you.

 

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