Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) launched the first family support group with the armed families in Lungtenphug, Thimphu on Thursday to empower and enable the community to collaborate and develop strategic intervention programs to prevent substance use issues from the source.

The initiative is aimed at promoting the drug-free society. The group is mandated to conduct prevention and awareness on effects of substance use, support the families affected with drugs and alcohol problems, identify vulnerability and provide peer intervention at the earliest time.

Chief programme officer of BNCA, Nima Damdul, said that the initiative emphasises the need for strong network of family, neighbour, community, and the service provider.

“This procedural system from source to center did not exist until now. The people are not forthcoming to seek professional support from us,” he said. “Lots of social stigmas exist within the family and in the community. Hence, the people with substance use problems are not able to come forward,”

He added that the group would take care of any substance abuse incidences occurring within the group. “The group leader would encourage and guide those with problems to seek support and services required. It would also be the priority of group to sensitise and carry out advocacy programmes.”

BNCA would form a similar group for businesses, schools and rural communities. The agency expects to cover almost 70 percent of the population.

The family support group for substance use is headed by a secretary, seven executive members, and group leaders. The armed forces families of Thimphu have seven groups, five in Lungtenphug and two in Dechencholing.

When the incidences of substance and alcohol problems occur in a group, the group leader will be notified. The leader would try intervening his or her capacity. If the issues cannot be resolved, it would be forwarded to the executive level that consists of seven executive members, school principal and psychiatrist. The problem would be referred to BNCA if it needs professional treatment.

Nima Damdul said that the system would let the family, teacher, and everyone responsible, know about the children getting into substance use. “Family supports are lagging in our community. In many incidences, parents are not often aware of their kids getting into drugs. And children get into drugs unknown to the family.”

The group leader would also conduct advocacy and awareness programs.

Kinley Dema, 27, from Lungtenphug, said that initiative reminded community of the need to care and support the family affected by drugs and alcohol problems. “We did not know where to contact in times of need. We thought that the drug and alcohol treatment consists only of rehabilitation and detoxification. But we came to know that better prevention exists among us, within family and community.”

She added that the culture of discriminating substance user exist in the communities. “Education is the solution to stop the social stigma. This is possible through collaboration and awareness.  We saw the need for such initiative, but the idea remained as an idea.”

BNCA will train the selected group leaders in basic counselling skills for addiction and intervention skills.

The initiative is aimed at building capacity within the group to solve the issues at an early stage. BNCA would support the group with financial support to conduct a quarterly meeting about the situation of issues in the community.

Group’s secretary Sangay Dema said that the initiative would enhance early-stage intervention. “There is no report about the issues in our community but we cannot be complacent. The issues remain unexposed often. We can encourage them to step forward for better intervention.”

A psychiatrist at army hospital in Lungtenphu, Major Dr Sonam Tobgay, said that it is important for a person suffering from substance use disorder to get early treatment. “The initiative I think would enable intervention at an early date and sensitise at large scale. The person might come out earlier for help and improve the situation.”

Meanwhile, close to 100 women gathered at the launch of the group were sensitised on types of psychotropic substance, cause of addiction, ill effects of substance use disorder, and narcotic substances common among the youth.