The Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) awarded a group of 25 addiction professionals with International Certified Addictions Professional (ICAP) Level I certificates in Thimphu yesterday.

The 25 counsellors are from various schools, colleges, government agencies, the Royal Bhutan Army and NGOs. After undergoing a series of training sessions set by the Colombo Plan over a period of four years, the participants received their credentials that will be recognised in 60 different countries.

In doing so, Bhutan became the first country in the list of several Colombo Plan member countries to complete the in-country training and credentialing of addiction professionals.

BNCA director general, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that the achievement of the participants is a milestone in the authority’s effort towards combating the growing problems of addiction in the country. “We have now added 25 new addiction professionals on the existing stock of 10 that we have in the country,” he said. “What is more important is that these counsellors will serve in places where the vulnerability of problem remains high, that is, the schools and colleges.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk who presented the certificates said that the problem of substance abuse is complex and it needs trained professionals to deal with the issue. “We are in need of such professionals to enhance our intervention against the rising drug abuse,” he said.

The minister said that according to the World Drug Report 2016, there are 246 million drug users in the world, an increase of three million users from the previous year. He added that around 187,100 people die due to drug related causes every year.

“Almost all the countries have been affected by the menace of drug abuse.  Bhutan too, being geographically located at a vulnerable location that is, near the regions which produce the largest quantity of illegal drugs, has been affected by the problem too.”

Lyonpo said that although the statistics maintained by the Royal Bhutan Police does not show a significant rise in arrests related to drug use and illicit trafficking since 2010, the country should not be complacent.

“What is worrying is, it affects the people in their prime age. As per the records maintained by the BNCA since 2010, youth comprised of 55.95 to 82.95 percent among the people arrested for drug related offences,” said the minister. “Drug abuse still continues to pose a serious threat to the public health, safety and well-being of our people, especially among the youth.”

The minister congratulated the certificate recipients and said: “I have been told that it has been a long journey and hard work requiring you to attend a series of training which started four years back to complete eight curricula and finally to sit for the exam to receive this credential. It is a well-deserved certificate.”

There are a total of 35 addiction professionals in the country today.

Younten Tshedup