Meeting: If the ever-growing drug addiction or abuse issue is to be addressed, it is still not late for Bhutan to start putting in place stringent “preventive” measures.

Although there are several drug preventive programmes currently being followed in the country, they do not have evidence-based effect.   Bhutan also needs to carry out timely study to assess the impact these programmes were making and improve them accordingly.

Monthly data collection is also necessary for better evaluation.  These were some of the recommendations Giovanna Campello gave at a daylong stakeholder meeting on international standards on drug use prevention yesterday.

Giovanna Campello is the programme management officer at prevention, treatment and rehabilitation section of the United Nations office on drugs and crime (UNODC).

Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency’s director general, Phuntsho Wangdi, said, preventing drugs in the country would be challenging because of the easy accessibility of pharmaceutical drugs from across the border.

He said, the number of drug addiction and trafficking was growing, which was alarming for a small country.

In 2014 alone, police arrested 950 people in connection with drugs, of which 58 percent were youth.  There was a 30 percent increase in cases involving possession of controlled substances, and a 10 percent increase in its illegal transaction last year.

There are 284 drug traffickers serving their sentences today, while 382 others are abusers.

“We’re looking at methods to prevent it before it’s too late to do anything,” he said. “One agency alone can’t prevent drug use.  All stakeholders need to come together.”

Yesterday’s meeting discussed ways on prevention of drugs use in schools where it was shared that there was a need to focus more on out of school youth.

Giovanna Campello said that the two most important institutions for drug prevention for children between 5-10 years were at home (parents) and school.  The more parental monitoring is done, the less children get into drug abuse.

She said, globally, there were some indications that the start of drug use was slightly different between male and female and family factor affected girls more than boys.

Addressing problems of children that had natural vulnerability was also important but it was something that Bhutan might not be able to choose immediately, she added.

Besides schools and homes, drug prevention is also equally important at workplace and entertainment areas.  At workplace, drug preventive programmes are expected to prevent tobacco and alcohol use.

At entertainment areas, bar managers can prevent by not serving alcohol to minors and the intoxicated. “Providing information only on negative effects of drug use doesn’t help in prevention,” she said.

By Nirmala Pokhrel