It was as if the country was drugged.
Drug cases were spiralling intoxicating almost every section of the society.
A nationwide crackdown on drugs was initiated on December 2, 2013 and while arrests were increasing, the problems persisted. An average of about 500 people from all walks of life were getting arrested every year for abusing, possessing or trafficking drugs.
The employed, the unemployed, owners, workers, students, teachers, farmers, housewives and armed force personnel were victims of drugs. Deterrence measures taken were not enough and sensitising programmes were found ineffective. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of cases and people arrested hovered around the same figure.
On March 24, 2017 at 3.44pm, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) informed of a decision that remains controversial to this day. It decided to make the identity of drug peddlers public. In other words, naming and shaming.
“The Royal Bhutan Police fully understands the fears and concerns of parents and youth alike. Therefore, the Royal Bhutan Police intend to create awareness by posting the photographs of the peddlers on this Facebook page,” the post reads. “We do not intend to put the person to shame by doing this, but we also know that this is the only way to let our people know who are the peddlers responsible for destroying the lives of our precious youth.”
On June 3, the RPB posted the first picture of two drug peddlers with the seized products. Paro police caught the men following a tip off. The drugs were found hidden in the spare tyre of a Bolero jeep.
“We are doing this as a last resort,” Chief of Police Brigadier Chimi Dorji said. “We wanted to sensitise people and show them who are bringing in the drugs.”
Until March 14 this year, almost two years after it decided to publicly shame drug peddlers, it has posted photographs of 30 people caught trafficking controlled substances through 23 posts on their official Facebook page. The posts do not name the persons. Repeat offenders and volume of the substances seized determine the decision to go public.
The decision got members from the judiciary, the media and other agencies question the legality of naming and shaming. The move had just come after the parliament had questioned the move to broadcast the names and photographs of loan defaulters. The RBP’s move provoked similar reactions.
When they decided to name and shame, police were aware of the reactions. “We said that if they wanted to challenge, let them but we decided to use this as a last resort.”
There was outcry. There was criticism and a numbed nation was woken up to the realities of drug cases growing in the country. A war on drugs had targeted both drug abusers and peddlers. From initial criticisms, netezins have begun to appreciate the police’s move. But many remain divided. The move was to deter. The figures show a sharp increase in drug cases.
From 523 in 2016, the number of people arrested more than doubled to 1,055 in 2017. In 2018, the number increased to 1,191. People arrested increased by 12.9 percent and cases by 9.7 percent.
Programme coordinator of Intelligence Led Policing, Lt Col Lobzang Phuntsho attribute the sharp increase to the mode of arrests made. According to RBP, the community’s support to their efforts and concern has led to more arrests. The number of arrests through informers increased by 72 percent while arrests through patrolling tripled. From four in 2017, duty officials at the gate made 118 arrests in 2018 and arrests through complainants more than doubled.
There is however a decline in arrests made through highway checking, which police attribute to strict vigilance. From 2012 to March 31, this year, a total of 403,189 vehicles were checked along the major national highways.
He said the number of people trafficking pharmaceutical drugs has declined while those abusing marijuana has been increasing. This, they claim is the main reason for increase in number of arrests.
In case of Spasmo proxyvon (SP) capsules, the seized volume declined by 36.3 percent in 2018 from 2017. In case of Nitrosun (N10), the volume in 2017 dropped by 76 percent from 2016 and 57.5 percent in 2018 from 2017.
According to police, the arrest of traffickers and constrained supply of pharmaceutical drugs has pushed people to seek displacement drugs that are locally available. Most abuse marijuana and solvents such as thinners.
“The number of traffickers peddling pharmaceutical drugs has declined but abusers are increasing because of marijuana,” Col Sonam Goenzing of Narcotic Drugs and Other Vices Division said.
From eight arrests in 2016, the number of people caught abusing thinner increased to 255 in 2018. One of the youngest thinner abusers caught was about 13 years old.
“Naming and shaming has definitely been helpful to the community,” Brigadier Chimi Dorji said. “Until this was done, people didn’t know drug peddlers were living in their neighbourhood.”