Amended narcotics Act gets teeth, quantifies drugs

A total of 18 new controlled narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursor chemicals have been added to the list

Drugs: Ketamine is now listed as a controlled drug in Bhutan following the incident in 2013 where a Bhutanese woman was caught smuggling the drug at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand.

Categorised under schedule IV of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act (NDPSSA) 2015, Ketamine is listed as a psychotropic substance with medicinal value.

Along with Ketamine, 18 new controlled narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and precursor chemicals have been added to the amended NDPSSA.

The list of 255 drugs also includes Spasmoproxyvon and Relipen, which are widely abused in Bhutan.

The controlled drugs and psychotropic substances are classified under various schedules from I to VI along with the permissible quantity if the drugs or substances are to be used for health, educational or industrial purposes.

NDPSSA Act states that illegal possession of all controlled narcotics and psychotropic substances could result in an offence of misdemeanor if the quantity is less than the limit determined in the Act but fails to produce a prescription from a registered physician for licit use.

However, illicit trafficking such as possession, imports, exports, stores, sales, purchases, transports, distributes, or supplies would land a prison term of first to a fourth degree felony depending on the quantity.

Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA) officials said that Ketamine was not included in the list prior to the Bangkok incident as it is not a restricted drug in most countries.

“With the increasing cases of Ketamine abuse in the neighbouring countries, it could be abused in Bhutan too,” BNCA’s director general Phuntsho Wangdi said.

Ketamine is a category II drug in Thailand, carrying a prison term of five to 20 years if convicted of smuggling it.

The generic name for Spasmaproxyvon and Relipen is dextropropoxyphene, which was earlier not included in the NDPSSA Act 2005.

Kuensel learnt that BNCA also received several letters from the courts questioning the legality of these drugs, as they are not included in the list despite arrests.

BNCA officials, however, said that the arrests were in line with the medicine Act and the Penal Code of Bhutan.

Phuntsho Wangdi said that as the controlled drugs are all listed in its generic name, it depends on how one interprets the laws.

BNCA officials said the amended Act now quantifies the list of controlled drugs and psychotropic substances including precursor chemicals.

With a more comprehensive Act, BNCA officials are hopeful that it would lead to uniformity of judgment unlike in the past where judgments varied irrespective of the quantity one was caught with.

As for precursor chemicals, BNCA officials said hospitals and industries have to avail import permit from the agency. “The precursor chemicals are internationally controlled chemicals that can also be used to prepare other drugs like heroin,” BNCA’s pharmacist Gyeltshen said.

Gyeltshen said that precursor chemicals are widely used by factories and hospitals in the country.

The Act states that a person shall be charged for illicit trafficking of precursor chemicals if the person imports, exports, stores, sells, supplies or transports any chemicals listed under Schedule V without license or authorisation.

The offence of illicit trafficking of precursor chemicals shall range from a felony of third to fourth degree depending on how it has been classified in the Act.

Despite the amended Act granting more authority to BNCA, the agency cannot vouch on the Act alone. Several challenges remain in combating the rising drug issue.

Director general Phuntsho Wangdi said that while addiction is a huge problem in the region, it was also difficult for the agencies to keep pace with new types of drugs. “As a small country surrounded by big neighbours, we are more vulnerable so we’ve to be a step ahead,” he said. “Even if a small percentage of our population is affected, it can have huge implication on the country.”

The porous borders and the weak detection capacity of enforcement agencies is also a challenge for the agency. Having to depend on informers mostly, BNCA officials said it has become difficult for informers to catch those involved in drug rackets in disintegrated groups.

“Now the racket is such that it’s moving away from the established sources in the Indian border town of Jaigaon,” Phuntsho Wangdi said.

Police records showed a 30 percent increase in cases involving possession of controlled substances, and a 10 percent increase of its illegal transaction last year.  There were 337 cases of possession of controlled substances, and 33 of its illegal transaction last year, compared to 259 and 30 respectively in 2013.

According to the narcotics drugs division of police, cannabis, Nitrazapem, and Spasmaproxyvon are the most abused drugs and substances in the country today.

The division’s superintendent of police Sonam Goenzing said drug cases are on rise especially after the nationwide crack down of drugs in 2013.

“We still appeal to the public not to indulge in drugs,” he said.

Kinga Dema 

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