There are an estimated 11,000 drug abusers in the country today.
For a small population this is too large a number.
At the recent Meet the Press, the Prime Minister said that the priority is on advocacy and in preventing people from turning to controlled substances in the first place, besides having adequate laws and measures in place to rehabilitate drug abusers.
However, the Prime Minister also pointed out that solving the drug problem is not the government’s responsibility alone. He is right. Mitigating the problem is a collective effort.
It was pointed out that all schools above the middle secondary level have counsellors to advice and identify students at risk. To supplement this measure, a programme involving several stakeholder organisations and even parents has been launched in a school in Thimphu, which will be replicated nationwide if successful.
Such measures are moves in the right direction and will be successful. However, some will still go on to use illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.
The message to not use drugs will need to be consistent and must be continuously reinforced by teachers and parents, among others.
Children of parents who abuse drugs or alcohol, among others, according to studies are, already at a higher risk of abusing substances themselves. It is important that parents are aware of the conflicting messages they may be conveying to their children if they themselves are abusing drugs but telling their kids not to.
The same goes for other adults who should be setting an example. For instance, the recent Tendu Central School incident is one example. On the one hand, students are told not to abuse substances, yet a party allowing smoking and drinking is permitted in the very centre of the school.
We’re also aware that some policy makers and law enforcers themselves smoke and drink. The correct examples need to be set.
The media too has to play a more proactive role by not only busting smuggling rings but also revealing the impact of drug abuse on society. It is also important for the media to raise awareness among the public that drug abuse is not about statistics but symptomatic of a much more complex problem.
There are stigmas that need to be removed and families to be made more aware of how to deal with members who are abusing substances. Stigmatisation, isolation and expectations of quick miracle recoveries need to be addressed.
Accessibility will always be a problem, but if we’re able to reduce demand, the supply should vanish.