Although the number of students who use controlled substance and alcohol is high, the percentage of students who are dependent on these substances is less. This is one of the key findings of the latest National Drug Use Survey.

According to the survey, one in every two students drank alcohol at least once. This means 50 percent of the students has tried alcohol.

The survey also reveals that more than one in a third of the students have used tobacco products.

For instance, of a total of 200,000 students, about 65,000 students have tried tobacco products.

The National Drug Use Survey was conducted in schools, university colleges, and community-based settings.

Of a total of 9,368 students recruited for the school-based survey, 4,564 were females.

The school-based survey found that one in every five students used cannabis and one out of six students reported using solvents.

Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority’s (BNCA) programme officer with the Demand Reduction Division, Karma Tenzin, said the use of alcohol gets worse as students get into higher classes.

The school-based survey found that 70 percent of the university students consumed alcohol.

About 67 percent of university students use their pocket money to buy drugs.

“All these findings are alarming,” Karma Tenzin said.

He said that of the total students who use tobacco, only seven percent are dependent; two percent are dependent on cannabis, 0.9 percent on alcohol and 0.5 percent on solvents. “The actual number of controlled substance and alcohol users is low.”

The survey reveals that the average age of using tobacco and alcohol for the first time is 14 and 15 years respectively. The average age for using cannabis and other illicit drugs is 16 years.

Karma Tenzin said that there is a lag period or window of opportunity of about two years between the onset of licit drug use such as tobacco and alcohol to initiation of illicit drug use such as cannabis and pharmaceuticals drugs.

“There is an opportunity of two years time during which effective interventions can be implemented in order to prevent them from getting into harder substances,” he said.

About 2,164 responders who are currently using or who had used substance in the past one year were recruited for the community-based survey.

The community-based survey found that early age of initiation of alcohol and cannabis directly lead to dependence on the substances.

“The earlier you start using the substance, the greater the risk of getting dependent on the substance,” Karma Tenzin said. “Most of the drug users are poly drug user meaning people use several substances at the same time so intervention or the treatment has to address the issue of multiple drug use amongst the drug users.”

Three prong strategies – demand, supply, and harm reduction strategies – are proposed in the survey.

Karma Tenzin said International Drug Conventions necessitate regular surveys to understand changing scenario and take actions accordingly.

To estimate the prevalence of tobacco, alcohol, other drug use in the country, the BNCA in collaboration with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted the National Drug Use Survey from October to December 2016 with funding support from Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM) and with technical support from UNODC.

The survey is also expected to determine the risk and protective factors associated with drug use, to evaluate the adverse health consequences of drug use and to explore service utilisation and the challenges related to it.

The last national baseline assessment survey on drug use in the country was conducted in 2009.

Dechen Tshomo