Dechen Tshomo

Two male tourist guides are undergoing treatment at the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) after testing positive for controlled substances during the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) mandatory drug test.

The two were referred to the BNCA’s Treatment Assessment Panel (TAP) after they tested positive for cannabis in December last year and January this year.

TCB, in collaboration with BNCA, began the drug test from December last year to ensure a healthier, safer and productive tourism industry free of drug abuse.

The guides are required to renew their license between December and February each year and the drug-free certificate is a mandatory document for the renewal of the license.

Tourism officer with the quality assurance division, Karma Tenzin said that those who tested positive can appeal if they wish, presenting evidence like medical prescriptions.

“The evidence will be verified by experts including the BNCA pharmacists and medical doctors,” he said.

An official with the BNCA said that they are undergoing pre-counselling sessions for two and a half hours every day.

The official said they have a TAP meeting on coming Tuesday where the TAP members will decide on the appropriate treatment to be provided to them based on the severity of their substance use.

Karma Tenzin said that the initiative was not to penalise those consuming controlled substances but to offer them an opportunity to get appropriate treatment services.

He said that it is reported that some of the tourist guides turned up at the psychiatric department at the national referral hospital for detoxification. “This means people are seeking help and treatment, which is good.”

People with substance abuse problems, he said should be provided help and treated, not stigmatised. “That is the main objective of the mandatory drug test.”

The license of those who tested positive for commonly used illegal drugs including marijuana, opioid, and cannabis, among others will be suspended during the time of the treatment.

The guide license of those who tested positive will be renewed after the TCB receives treatment completion letter from the BNCA. There will be a random drug testing for those who tested positive earlier.

Of more than 4,000 registered tourist guides in the country, only 956 renewed their license and underwent the drug test so far since December 1, 2019. About 26 trekking cooks also underwent the drug test as of January 8.

Karma Tenzin said more guides are expected to appear for the test next month as testing will end on February 29.