Bhutan’s struggle with rampant use and abuse of controlled substances is a national issue. It is no secret that the ban on tobacco has cultivated a black market that law enforcement agencies are unable to crack. Yet, we appear to be in denial.

Recent developments show that we are struggling with facts and figures. We dispute the happiness ranking and question the credibility of institutions that conduct surveys. The labor ministry took it even further by questioning its own methodology in conducting labour force surveys.

Now, we have the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority issuing disclaimers. It claims that the high use of tobacco at 29 percent and marijuana at 12 percent as reported in a health survey are incidents of one time use and not of regular use. It further claims that the problematic uses of tobacco and marijuana in schools are about 6.6 percent and two percent respectively.

Raising such concerns and clarifications are important. But it is still problematic when the main agency that is responsible to control controlled substances takes consolation in its figures that report a low incidence of tobacco and marijuana.  The health ministry and World Health Organisation (WHO) conducted the health survey. Just as BNCA, these institutions are the authorities in their own right. If we accept WHO awards and take pride in our claims of having eliminated measles, it could be problematic when the same organisation’s report is questioned, if only to defend one’s own findings.

BNCA’s survey was also conducted in schools and, save for the key findings, it has not yet published or released its report. It is hoped that the agency has not also kept this report under lock and key just as it has kept safe the report of crewmembers that tested positive for controlled substances. If it must defend its findings, it must share its report. Its mandate is to control the use and abuse of controlled substances, not to control information that are important to people. It must worry as much about the one time use of tobacco and marijuana among students as it does about those who are regular users.

But more than going on the defensive and issuing disclaimers, our institutions must start accepting alternative facts. The issue here is not so much about who is saying what, but about what is being done about the drug problem that has gripped the lives of so many of our young.

That BNCA is the lead authority with the mandate to address the issue of substance abuse in the country is not questioned. But in battling the drug menace that is robbing the country of its present and its future, the priorities of agencies dealing with the problem must align. We must work collectively. We must look beyond institutional differences when issues of public health concern arise. We must accept that we have a problem, a grave one that is, just as those dependent on controlled substances are counseled to accept. Institutions such as the BNCA cannot personify the denial syndrome, which consume those abusing drugs.