If Morpheus gave him the choice, Tshering (name changed) would choose the blue pill anytime that to him promised a life of luxurious security, tranquil happiness,  and the blissful ignorance of illusion. 

New in Gelephu town, Tshering, 23, wandered off to the dusty streets of Dadgari in India hunting for happiness. Here, the blue pill sells; it is big business. Customers are mostly Bhutanese youth from across the border.

New face is a problem here, but it wasn’t for Tshering. He found a group of men selling the blue pill. SP+ is the most abused pharmaceutical drug in Bhutan.

“Although I had tried several other tablets and drugs, I was really hooked to SP+ by then,” Tshering said. SP+ used to be widely available in Gelephu. People from across the border would smuggle the drug in easily.

“Some of our friends who used to visit us from the bordering towns used to bring us these tablets as gifts,” Tshering said. 

Gelephu is considered one of the gateways through which controlled substances enter the country.  This year, as of April 23, Gelephu police arrested 20 people related to drug trafficking and abuse. However, according to the police, the number of drug-related cases, both abuse and trafficking, is on the decline in Gelephu after a full-scale crackdown last year.

Police registered 60 cases and arrested 95 people last year. In 2017, 27 cases were registered. 

Officials check a van for drugs

Officials check a van for drugs

Modus operandi

Like in other bordering towns, the porous border is the biggest challenge facing law enforcement agents in Gelephu to control the entry of drugs into the country. 

Most of the arrests made and cases registered with police are those that were caught at the entry gate. Now, traffickers have found ways to avoid the gate.

Kuensel learnt that there are at least seven illegal routes that the people use between Gelephu and Dadgari to transport drugs; police believe there could be more routes that they are not aware of. And the smugglers use various methods to hide the contrabands.

“If they are bringing the drugs through the gate, they conceal it inside their shoes, undergarments and in different compartments of the vehicle,” said one official. “We check whenever we come across suspicious people. We also depend on tip offs.”

Taxies and buses are also used by some of the traffickers to smuggle drugs from across the border. Kuensel learnt that recently one of the repeated offenders was intercepted smuggling in an undisclosed quantity of controlled substances in a bus. The suspect had fled when police arrived for the routine check. 

Police said that truckers were also involved in trafficking the contrabands. However, given the large quantity of load, police said that it was difficult to check every truck entering the gate.    

Dorji (name changed) has been ferrying boulders and sand across the border for the last seven years. Hidden under the bricks and cement, he carried the controlled substances. 

“As the checking became more strict, we had to come up with better ideas to hide them from the police,” he said. “It was for my personal consumption; never sold to anyone. Now I’ve stopped this because I couldn’t take the risk anymore.” 


The trend 

With the fight against substance abuse and trafficking of controlled substances gaining momentum in the country, abusers and traffickers are exploring ways to escape detection. 

Substance abusers residing in Gelephu and other bordering towns go to drugs; they don’t wait for drugs to come to them. According to sources, there are peddlers in Dadgari, including some Bhutanese, who work as middlemen. Bhutanese enter the Indian territory to buy and consume their regular dose and enter the gate without any drugs on them.     

Buying drug has gone underground, sort of. The middleman escorts the buyer (someone within the network) to the outskirts of the town where the transactions take place. New buyers are accompanied by someone from the network to the dealers in Dadgari. 

“The middleman used to directly approach you once you enter the town and offer you their price,” said Sangay (name changed). “This has stopped now as the local police have become more strict.”  

Tshering has recently joined the counselling session at the drop-in centre in Gelephu. “At one point in my life, I thought I could never come out of my addiction. It is difficult, but I don’t think it is impossible,” he said. “I’ve been clean for the last one year.”   

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu


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