Nima | Gelephu

At the Gelephu Drop-in Centre (DIC) the number of people visiting the centre for counselling services has dropped. The drop, however, does necessarily mean improvement, according to officials working with the persons with substance use disorder.

“Persons with substance use disorders (SUD), affected directly by the soaring prices of the drugs and tobacco products have taken to alcohol because of the ongoing lockdown,” said Hemnath Loya Monger, DIC incharge in Gelephu.

Before lockdown, the centre used to provide services mostly to youth who were using psychotropic substances.

Hemnath Loya Monger, said the centre used to receive over eight clients every week in the past years.

From 124 new clients who availed the centre’s services in 2018-19, the number dropped to 88 in 2019-2020. The clients were mostly from Sarpang, Dagana, Tsirang, and Zhemgang who were into psychotropic substances.

“The fall in the number of clients was because the persons using drugs could have started drinking alcohol because it’s widely available,” said Hemnath Loya Monger. “There is no standard policies concerning the use of alcohol.”

According to the record with the centre, clients between 15 and 25 years formed the biggest group this year.

The official added that by now persons with SUD could have shifted to alcohol, a common trend observed among persons with chronic substance use disorder.

“Person with SUD becomes alcohol dependent easily within a short period. There would be more alcohol-related problems in the future,” said Hemnath Loya Monger.

Executive director of Chithuen Phendey Association, Tshewang Rinzin, said many drug users would take to alcohol when supply is restricted. “In general, more people might drink unusually during a pandemic because of stress,” he said.

Today, a packet of chewing tobacco and cigarette cost Nu 250 and Nu 500 respectively in Gelephu.

The cost of psychotropic substances has also increased by almost three folds, according to sources.

This is expected to encourage dealers to take risks amid rising corona cases in the region.

“It’s a serious issue because many addicts are willing to pay a high amount. Scarcity means more profits for dealers and I am afraid people would take risk amidst Covid-19 pandemic,” said Tshewang Rinzin.

He added that the drug price hike is beyond anyone’s control. “ It’s a well-hidden illegal business,” he said. “When the government came up with prevention plans, I have not seen anyone interested to look into these issues.”

Tshewang Tenzin said people with SUD were left out.

Hemnath Loya Monger said it was worrying when young took to alcohol because of the recent developments. “We already have severe alcohol-related problems in the country.”

Alcohol-related problem is among the biggest health burdens in the country. The estimated cost of treating one patient is Nu 1,22,000.