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Atleast one-person was arrested everyday in connection to controlled substances this year in Thimphu.

Records show that 98 individuals comprising 71 abusers and 27 traffickers were caught in the capital until March 14. Among the seized substances were 14,898 SP plus capsules.

A nationwide crackdown on drugs has begun since December 2013. Laws against drugs were amended and police have started naming and shaming drug offenders on their social media pages. How effective have these been in deterring substance abuse?

Not much, if recent records are any indicator. Last year, there were 596 drugs related arrests. In 2016, there were 515 cases and since the crackdown in 2013 until 2015, there were 1,452 cases. This shows that on an average, at least one person is arrested everyday in the country for drugs related cases.  Between 2001 and 2010, the number of substance abusers in the country increased by 10 times. From 59 cases in 2001, the number surged to 579 in 2010.  Last year, the education minister reported to the parliament that of the 4,668 students recorded for abusing drugs in 2016, about 4,000 are from schools in Thimphu.

These figures show that in our fight against drugs, we have still much to do.

While a large number of cases may indicate tough laws and penalties for drug offences, there is now a need to assess their impacts as a deterrent to problem drug users. For when the legislature makes laws to protect society from harms by criminalising individual conduct, it often tends to overestimate the laws’ enforceability. The case with SP+ and the Supreme Court judgment that ensued is indicator enough.

Persons using drugs and alcohol are identified as one of the vulnerable in the vulnerability baseline assessment, 2016. It observes that 68 percent of the people who use controlled substances get them from their peers and another 16 percent through cross border exchange. The national health survey reports that cannabis users make up 72 percent of the drug users in the country.

Even if efforts to tackle substance abuse remain challenged, policy makers and authorities concerned now have enough data to analyse the problem and understand why some of its efforts aren’t effective. Substances that are referred to as controlled are not only affordable but also easily accessible today.

During the APA mid year review last month, BNCA reported that it has no target at risk and highlighted the institutionalisation of drug testing as its biggest achievement. We agree that instituting drug testing in public institutions is a progressive move but when the nodal agency to address substance abuse reports zero targets at risk, there is a problem with the targets.

But tackling substance abuse is not about mere numbers and targets. It requires collective effort and sound financial support to the leading agency to set higher targets and implement actions that will make a difference to the lives of the vulnerable.

While substance abuse has outpaced the development of rehabilitation services and counsellors in the country, police continue to refer cases for counselling and rehabilitation.  Those that cannot be accommodated at home are referred abroad.

And this is how most substance abuse cases end. At least for the authorities. For the drug users, it is only the beginning.

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