Opium Treatment Centre



The Opium Treatment Centre opened in February 1955 on St. John’s Island for the treatment and rehabilitation of opium addicts. The centre was the colonial government’s first attempt at treating addicts; prior to this, opium addicts were charged in court and sent to prison.

Background
From the late 19th century, Chinese associations and social reformers such as Chen Su Lan and Lim Boon Keng had been campaigning against the sale of opium, eventually leading to the formation of the Singapore Anti-Opium Society in 1906.1

Chen, a medical doctor recognised as an authority on opium addiction, led efforts under the auspices of the Singapore Anti-Opium Society to establish the Anti-Opium Clinic on Kampong Java Road in May 1933.2 The clinic provided a confinement space for opium addicts to be weaned off the drug.3 However, it closed in August 1938 due to financial difficulties.4

Shortly after the Japanese Occupation (1942–45) ended, the British Military Administration announced in October 1945 that opium was banned in Malaya.5 At the time, there were an estimated 16,000 opium smokers in Singapore.6 The Opium and Chandu Proclamation enacted the following year prohibited opium smoking and the possession of opium smoking tools, among other regulations.7 However, opium dens continued to operate illegally, with 1,571 opium saloons recorded in 1949.8

In the early 1950s, the authorities in Singapore began taking more active steps to combat opium trafficking. In 1952, a massive crackdown resulted in more than 2,000 arrests on opium-related charges.9 The following year, amendments were introduced to the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance 1951 – the legislation that replaced the Opium and Chandu Proclamation – to extend the authorities’ power to prosecute opium smokers.10

The police force was tasked to arrest opium smokers and peddlers on the ground, and the Central Narcotics Intelligence Bureau was established in 1954 within the Customs and Excise Department to tackle opium trafficking.11 The bureau also worked with the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to probe into bribery cases involving government officials.12

Establishment
While raids and arrests were conducted to stamp out the vice, the colonial government also began to explore ways to rehabilitate opium addicts. In October 1954, a bill amending the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance was raised in the Legislative Council to provide for the establishment of an opium treatment centre13 and it was decided that the facility would be located on St. John’s Island.14 Before the centre opened, opium smokers were charged in court and sent to prison.15

The Opium Treatment Centre began operations in February 1955 with R. W. Heal as its first superintendent, W. E. Hutchinson as medical officer and Wong Yip Keong as rehabilitation officer.16 Managed as part of the Prisons Department, the facility was described as “experimental” and received international attention for its pioneering role.17


Treatment programme
Opium smokers who were arrested by the authorities were first remanded in the Opium Ward of Outram Prison and then sent to the General Hospital (now Singapore General Hospital) for examination to be certified suitable for treatment at the Opium Treatment centre.18 This selection process was controversial at the time, as some addicts were denied treatment for being “beyond redemption”.19


The opium treatment programme comprised three phases: withdrawal, rehabilitation and follow-up. The withdrawal phase lasted between two and four weeks and took place in the prison hospital. A tincture of opium was used as the withdrawal drug and administered over a period of 10 days. This was followed by the rehabilitative phase when the addict was moved to the Opium Treatment Centre on St. John’s Island. The length of the stay at the centre lasted about six months to a year. At the centre, the patient was assigned occupational therapy such as carpentry, rattan work or tailoring, so that he or she could find work upon release.20 Upon discharge from the centre, the rehabilitated individual rejoined the community but had to go through the follow-up phase, which consisted of weekly visits to the General Hospital’s outpatient department. This regular monitoring was to reduce the chances of a relapse.21

The Opium Treatment Centre took in 18 patients in the first week after its opening.22 By the end of 1960, the centre was treating close to 580 patients.23 The centre also reached out to opium smokers and encouraged addicts to come in voluntarily for treatment.24 It was reported in 1966 that 4,000 opium addicts had been rehabilitated at the Opium Treatment Centre since its opening in 1955.25 When opium addiction was less common in Singapore and deemed to be under control by the authorities in the 1970s, the centre was converted into a drug rehabilitation centre to handle all types of drug addicts.26



References
1. Trocki, C. A. (1990). Opium and empire: Chinese society in colonial Singapore, 1800–1910. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 204–212. (Call no.: RSING 305.895105957 TRO); Anti-Opium Society’s fine work. (1937, March 18). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Chinese topics in Malaya. (1933, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 14; Birthday of Anti-Opium Clinic. (1934, May 21). The Straits Times, p. 13; Singapore opium addicts clamour for treatment. (1935, October 21). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Birthday of Anti-Opium Clinic. (1934, May 21). The Straits Times, p. 13; Chen, S. L. (1952, August 13). Dr. Chen Su Lan clarifies. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Anti-Opium Clinic has closed down. (1938, August 11). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Goodbye, opium. (1945, October 10). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (1958, January 1). The opium problem in Singapore. Bulletin on Narcotics, IX(3). Retrieved from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1958-01-01_4_page003.html
7. Suppressing opium smoking. (1946, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. 1,415 dens for opium smokers. (1950, June 22). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Big swoop on opium dens. (1952, July 6). The Straits Times, p. 1; Raids shut 1,000 opium dens. (1952, December 18). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; Opium convictions set a new Singapore record. (1953, June 10). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Opium ‘war’: New powers. (1953, October 3). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Colony of Singapore. (1955). Annual report. Singapore: [s.n.], pp. 139–140. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN); Customs win opium war. (1955, December 21). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. New move to smash Far East dope ring. (1954, June 18). The Singapore Free Press, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. War on opium. (1954, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. St. John’s is ideal. (1953, September 13). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. War on opium. (1954, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Morgan, P. (1955, February 5). Whole world watches this store experiment. The Straits Times, p. 8; Opium advisers appointed. (1955, February 23). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Morgan, P. (1955, February 5). Whole world watches this store experiment. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
18. Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1983, October 12). Oral history interview with Saravana Perumal [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000335/17/15, pp. 151-154]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline; Eastley, A. (1956, May 7). It’s a new life for lost soul. The Singapore Free Press, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Opium addicts. (1955, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 8; It is funny, says court. (1956, March 25). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (1958, January 1). The opium problem in Singapore. Bulletin on Narcotics, IX(3). Retrieved from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1958-01-01_4_page003.html; Eastley, A. (1956, May 7). It’s a new life for lost soul. The Singapore Free Press, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (1958, January 1). The opium problem in Singapore. Bulletin on Narcotics, IX(3). Retrieved from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime website: http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1958-01-01_4_page003.html
22. Morgan, P. (1955, February 5). Whole world watches this store experiment. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Singapore. Prisons Department. (1960). Annual report. Singapore: [s.n.], p. 22. (Call no.: RCLOS 365.95957 SIN)
24. Singapore. Prisons Department. (1954). Annual report. Singapore: [s.n.], p. 140. (Call no.: RCLOS 365.95957 SIN)
25. 4,000 saved in 11 years. (1966, August 6). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Two new centres to treat drug addicts. (1973, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 7; ‘Opium, morphine problem under control’. (1973, March 27). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
80,000 who smoke opium? No, says Blythe. (1952, August 20). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Better smoking pipe of opium than 15 cigarettes a day. (1957, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Campaign launched to fight opium evil. (1941, February 12). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chen, S. L. (1930, February 21). The case for opium reform – II. The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chew, D. (Interviewer). (1983, October 6). Oral history interview with Saravana Perumal [Transcript of cassette recording no. 000335/17/11]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline

Complete suppression of opium smoking advocated. (1934, November 27). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Dens are not the only places. (1952, August 30). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

‘Enlightened’ laws as first step to end addiction. (1954, November 22). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Opium policy needed. (1952, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Untitled. (1934, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Why does the coolie smoke opium? (1936, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Wu, L.-T. (1945, November 13). Opium: Some echoes of the past. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 24 January 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Opium abuse--Treatment--Singapore
Streets and Places
Politics and Government>>Health
Opium abuse--Law and legislation--Singapore
Politics and Government
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places