It has been a busy week with  many important discourses on tourism, hydropower, irregularities, trade and debt deficit. All of these have bearings on our future. Outside the parliament house, there is another issue that is increasingly calling our attention.

The Royal Bhutan Police is apprehending traffickers or smugglers of the so-called contraband substances or “drugs”. Both the frequency and the quantity is alarming and worrying at the same time.

Since the Parliament session began, there were two incidences of police nabbing smugglers with thousands of capsules of what is now the preferred substance – spasmo proxyvon plus  or (SP+). In about less than a year, about 100,000 capsules of SP+ capsules and N10 tablets (according to Kuensel records) were seized from smugglers. Police in Jaigaon is also intercepting huge caches of banned substances – some of them bound for Bhutan. Thousands could have reached the hands of the abusers.

Abusing substances is not new. But the new trend is the bold attempts to get in huge quantities. Had the consignments not been intercepted, there is enough SPs and N10s to keep abusers, mostly young Bhutanese, hooked to drugs for months and years. What is surprising is that the incidents and quantities smuggled are becoming bigger even with the borders closed. It had not stopped even with strict restrictions on movements during the nationwide lockdowns.

Many say money or greed is the cause for the increasing smuggling cases. With increased incidences, there is a call to get to the root of it. Some suspect if there is a mastermind or a kingpin, within the country or outside, behind the blatant and bold attempts made. Some are wondering if it is a deliberate attempt to ruin the youth of the country.

Most of the smugglers are young. The last age details police revealed were between 22 and 40 years. Police records also show that offenses of substance abuse happen in urban areas where the youth are most concentrated. For instance, in 2020, Thimphu recorded 241 cases, Paro  35, Chukha 50 and Samtse 53. Offense related to narcotic drugs, psychological substances, and substance abuse is the highest among the crime categories. There were 667 in 2019 and 455 cases in 2020.

The issue needs attention. Once smuggled, it is getting into strictly restricted areas like hospitals and prisons, schools and, we can surmise, other institutions. If it is ruining the lives of our young people, it is directly challenging the efforts and initiatives to make our youth productive, skilled, knowledgeable or relevant to the 21st century and its opportunities.

We are a country with more than half the population below 28 years. Not concerning for them is risking the future of the country. An urgent agenda should be on the substance abuse issue. It has its roots in our policies and decisions. Unemployment, for instance, is directly linked to crime, drugs, or violence. When options in life and employment are limited, it could sink our young people into a life of drugs. Youth themselves believe that if their energy and potential are not tapped or channeled in the right direction, they become vulnerable to substance abuse or coming into conflict with the law.

The police can apprehend only so much. There should be a collective effort to face this social ill. How do we stop drugs coming in? How do we deal with those apprehended? And most important of all, how do we make our people understand that abusing substances is abusing life. What should be done?