Although the government is taking it seriously, the number of people getting arrested for trafficking and abusing controlled substances in the country is not alarming, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said during the meet the press yesterday.

In the last five years, the highest number of people arrested for their involvement in controlled substance cases was in 2014 at 712, followed by 562 in 2013. In 2015 and 2012, a total of 514 and 516 were arrested respectively.

The Prime Minister said that although the government has gone all out and asked the police to arrest any person trafficking and abusing drugs, the number of arrests last year was 523. “In 2017, the number of arrests should hopefully be bigger because a lot of cases have been undetected.”

He said that going by the number of people arrested, it is not very alarming. Lyonchhen, however, said that the issue of substance abuse is serious and the government is taking it seriously. “Every time I see something in media or get a report on drug abuse and illicit trafficking, I get concerned.”

Except for last year, more than 50 percent of those arrested in the last five years were youth. In 2016, about 47.8 percent of the arrested were youth, of which 8.8 percent are students.

In 2012, of the total arrests, 28.7 percent are students. The total arrests in 2013 and 2014 had some 16 percent of students. About 11.26 percent were students in 2015’s total arrest.

The Prime Minister said that the government is carefully monitoring schools and the education minister is going from school to school launching drug-free school programmes. “If we go by the trend in the last five years, there haven’t been a drastic increase and the percentage of youth involved has also come down, which is a good sign,” he said. “But we are not happy because we know that much more are going undetected.”

Lyonchhen said the drug abuse situation is dangerous for the country’s youth and its future. “The government is doing its best, not just in the investigation, arresting, filing cases and seizing drugs but also in terms of advocacy.”

He said that until 2014, drug abusers were not arrested.  “In 2015 and 2016, about 37 and 83 abusers were arrested.”

The Prime Minister also said that since the enactment of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychoactive Substance and Substance Abuse (NDPSSA) Act in July 2015, which requires the suspects apprehended for substance abuse to be referred to the Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority’s (BNCA) treatment assessment panel for assessment, a total of 120 abusers were arrested. “This year, about 202 controlled substance abusers were arrested until yesterday.”

He said it is not that there are larger numbers of abusers but it is just that the government had directed the law enforcement agencies to take a tough stand on substance abuse.

Figures shared by the Prime Minister show that about 42.6 percent of the arrests in 2016 was related to pharmaceuticals drugs followed by 36.1 percent related to cannabis (marijuana) and 2.69 percent solvents.

In terms of drugs seized, the quantity of Spasmo-proxyvon (SP) increased by four times in 2016 at 143,234 capsules compared to 31,580 capsules in 2012.

The quantity of marijuana seized increased to 779 kgs last year from 324 kgs in 2012. The seized Nitrosun 10 tablets increased from 3,988 in 2012 to 4,902 tablets last year.

Lyonchhen said that the increase in drugs seized could be because the usage has increased or policing has improved. “Since the government had directed police and other law enforcing agencies to do a thorough investigation and implement the law strictly, the drugs seized have increased while the number of total arrests has not really increased.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk, who is also the chair of BNCA, said the government amended the NDPSSA Act in 2015 realising the issue of drug abuse in the country. “The provisions in the Act for illicit trafficking are strict and the Act clearly states the law related to abuse and illicit trafficking of controlled substances.”

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said thousands of vehicles ply in and out of the border areas every day and it is not possible to frisk each and every car. “Most of the arrests are made based on informers.”

He said some traffickers bring in controlled substances concealed inside fruits, grocery items and vehicle parts, making it difficult to crack down on trafficking of drugs into the country.

Besides strict enforcement of laws, the Prime Minister said that the government wants to provide good legal representatives to those detained for drug abuse in the court of law.

Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said helping the drug abusers with rehabilitation treatment alone is not enough. He said the government is looking at the possibility of helping drug abusers with legal representation besides detoxing and rehabilitation services. “If they don’t have good lawyers, they may get unnecessarily locked up for a longer duration.”

Dechen Tshomo