Dechen Dolkar 

When the government lifted the ban on bar license, an association working closely with people suffering from alcoholism, the Chithuen Phendhey Association (CPA), proposed the government to support rehabilitation treatment fees and construction of more rehabilitation centres.

Officials working in CPA claimed the government does not support any funding to the association to treat people with alcohol addictions.

The association proposed the government provide subsidies for food to those availing rehabilitation treatment.

CPA’s executive director, Tshewang Tenzin, said it cost about Nu 3,000 a month on food for an individual.

He said if the government can provide subsidies for food, the association could treat about 80 patients a month. Currently, they can treat only 50 patients.

“There is also a need for capacity development. We required more counsellors in the centre,” he said.

Tshewang Tenzin said although the government consulted the association on lifting the ban on bar licenses, the government didn’t consider any recommendations and had no response to their proposal.

He said that they have recommended not to lift the bar license for a time being when there are more than 4,000 bar licenses in the country. “We also requested the government to make a proper study before lifting the ban.”

He questioned why there is no free treatment for those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.

According to CPA officials, an individual will have to pay Nu 10,000 in a month to avail rehabilitation services. “Some are not able to pay fees.”

They claimed two in five Bhutanese drink alcohol and one in five engage in heavy drinking.

According to the annual health bulletin, there are more than 2,000 alcohol liver diseases every year. In 2020, 2,624 people suffered from the disease and last year it was recorded 2,391.

Similarly, more than 100 people died of alcohol liver disease every year. In 2020, 166 deaths were recorded and 144 last year.

There are two rehabilitation centres in the country, one run by CPA at Taba and one at Tshaluna. CPA accommodates 70 to 80 people and Tshaluna accommodates 50 people.

During the pandemic, the centres were not able to absorb all the people.

Meanwhile, CPA also plans to have drop-in-centres, one in every dzongkhag to strengthen detoxification and treatment.

They proposed the government have more aftercare services and reformation of prison services.

CPA treated 659 people from 2013 till last year, the highest with 123 in 2020.

Meanwhile, the health minister, Dechen Wangmo said that the government will support training counsellors and building the capacity of existing counsellors.

“We have designed alcoholic demand reduction programmes including enhancing rehabilitation and detox services,” said the health minister adding that now the programme was taken-over under substance abuse of Pema Secretariat.

Lyonpo said that they initiated alcohol sensitisation to Member of Parliament, and government secretariats and they have plans to sensitise the NGOs, and media.

Lyonpo also mentions focusing on detox, rehabilitation and reintegration aftercare.

In the past, there wasn’t reintegration aftercare. “Under the Pema Secretariat, we have re-skilling and empowerment aftercare.”

According to the record with the Ministry of Economic Affairs, 5,382 restaurant licenses that are allowed to sell alcohol are issued from June 1 till July 7, 2022.

The highest number of licenses was issued in Thimphu with 618 and the lowest in Gasa with 36.