Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) and Bhutan Medical and Health Council on August 25 suspended Drungtsho Tandin Phub of National Traditional Medicine Hospital (NTMH) from prescribing a Sowa Rigpa  (traditional medical) treatment to help control craving of alcohol, doma, and tobacco.

DRA asked Drungtsho Tandin Phub to stop prescribing traditional medicines because of safety concerns and on the grounds of legality of the practice.

DRA’s spokesperson, Ngawang Dema, said that the medicines prescribed by Drungtsho Tandin Phub were registered with DRA but they did not have extended benefits. “We approve the indications of traditional medicines based on ancient Sowa Rigpa texts. However, according to the documentation submitted by the manufacturer (Menjong Sorig Pharmaceuticals), there is no mention of these extended indications or benefits,” she said.

Ngawang Dema added: “Any therapeutic claims which are not reflected at the time of registration is considered additional claim, claim without any scientific evidence.  However, if his claim is substantiated by studies or with the evidence, DRA is ready to review and register the additional claims through the manufacturer.”

She said the authority suspended Drungtsho Tandin Phub from practice after he was found promoting the medicines through media. “We also received complaints from other drungtshos that people were demanding the medicines for reasons other than stated in the Sowa Rigpa. It’s not about banning the practice, but about following the due provisions of the law,” she said.

Medical Superintendent of NTMH, Karma Gaylak, said Drungtsho Tandin Phub’s practice is based purely on his personal experience.  “If his initiative benefits people, we need to support him. Of course, the medicine he prescribed was beyond the indicated list. I find his practice substantiated with the psychological level. If his research and data prove to be positive we will introduce and approve his findings,” he said.

Drungtsho Tandin Phub and two menpas were sent by NTMH upon the requests from the Kangjur recitation organisers to set up a medical unit at Kuenselphodrang.

Drungtsho Tandin Phub prescribed Ghee-Wang-Gu-Pa, indigenous medicines indicated for the cure and treatment of liver, for those suffering from alcohol dependency, and Lee-Shi-Druk-Pa that is indicated for the lung treatment of the individual suffering lungs problems.

Drungtsho Tandin Phub said that he never told anyone that the medicine is meant for the alcohol and smoking treatment. “I told them to stop drinking and smoking as it affects liver and lungs and prescribed the medicines to cure damage caused on liver and lungs. I was aware of the indication of the medicine I was prescribing. However, my treatment involved 80 percent counselling and 20 percent of medicines,” he said.

“The medicines I prescribed aren’t new. I did not find any need of approval and clearance from the authority,” said the Drungtsho.

Karma Jurmey, 47, from Trongsa, said that the medicines helped him quit alcohol. “I started taking medicine from Gewog health unit. I had to take three dosages per day,” he said.

Chencho from Paro said that about 12 people visit him daily asking for medicines. “Among 50 of the people who took the medicine, more than 30 stopped drinking and smoking. The medicine helped me quit smoking too.”