Singapore drug cases jump 42 pct on Subutex abuse

SINGAPORE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Drug-abuse cases in Singapore soared last year, mainly because of a surge in the use of Subutex, a drug which was introduced to help wean drug addicts off heroin, Singapore's Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) said.

Singapore introduced Subutex as a prescription medication five years ago to help wean addicts off heroin. But the narcotics agency said that 30 percent of abusers caught were hooked on Subutex, which is sometimes mixed with a tranquiliser or other drugs to produce a high.

But in mid-August, the government reclassified Subutex as an illegal drug. Since then, authorities have arrested a total of 347 people for abusing the drug. In all, Singapore has arrested 1,127 users last year, up 42 percent from 793 in 2005, the CNB said in a statement.

"Overall, the local drug situation remains well contained, with drugs remaining scarce and prices high," a CNB official told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that Singapore maintains a "zero-tolerance policy" on drug abuse.

On Monday, Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee told Parliament that Subutex abuse has "improved significantly" as the CNB seized just 79 tablets in December last year, out of a total of 2500 tablets seized after the government made Subutex illegal in mid-August. ((Reporting by Jamie Lee, editing by Geert De Clercq;, Reuters Messaging:; +65 6870-4575))