The initiative of random drug tests in schools, including teachers, is a great initiative—one of the viable preventive methods. However, there is anxiety among students and teachers alike about the consequences if they test positive. In 2020, “an estimated 284 million people worldwide aged 15–64, the majority of whom were men, had used a drug ” and Bhutan is no exception. While Section 85 of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act (Amendment 2018) allows drug testing as per the rules, the rules and regulations are not available for public view. Such test protocols must be accessible to the public to prevent any abuse of such procedures or authorities while conducting the tests.

Drug tests in schools should not be used as a means to incarcerate or punish students and teachers. The Center for Disease Control in the United States defines “addiction as a disease, not a character flaw. People suffering from substance use disorders have trouble controlling their drug use even though they know drugs are harmful.”  Therefore, merely using or being addicted is not a criminal offence but a disease requiring medical and social assistance, not punishment. The studies showed that “stigma is the biggest challenge in the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addiction.”  Evidence suggests, society thinks “it is their fault, and judges them, shames them, and punishes them.” Instead,  compassion, empathy, social reintegration programs, and the incorporation of drug abuse discussion in the education system are considered the most effective preventive methods.

 Section 40 of the NDPSSA Act permits the voluntary submission where drug users submit to authorities or hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation and are protected from criminalization. Sections 114 and 115 of the Penal Code waive any criminal liability of a child of 12 years or below, and those above twelve years and below 18 years, only a “minimum of half of the sentence prescribed for the offence.”

Section 153 of the NDPSSA Act provides opportunities to correct a child in conflict of law for the offence of substance abuse if they are above twelve years and less than 18 years old. The “first-time offence” is liable to undergo compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for not less than three months after being assessed by Treatment Assessment Panel (TAP) or one-month counseling if he or she does not require treatment or rehabilitation, or both. The second time for not less than six months. Third time for not less than one year and fourth time for a misdemeanor in addition to rehabilitation and treatment and also community service.” Section 154 gives a similar opportunity to the child below 12 years without any criminal liability.

Further Section 50 of the NDPSSA Act makes it clear that “any drug dependant person who has completed treatment or served sentence shall be given equal opportunities for jobs and other opportunities to help assimilate into the mainstream.” Therefore, any legal action against those 18 years or more must not violate this provision.

The scientific evidence has repeatedly shown that easy access and affordability of alcohol and tobacco significantly contribute to the use of harder drugs, particularly among children and youth. The government’s efforts to make both tobacco and alcohol easily accessible and affordable everywhere must be made equally accountable for increasing drug use among our children and for failing to act in the interest of the future of our children.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.