… as part of a campaign to raise awareness on alcohol and drugs

Sixty volunteers recovering from alcohol and drug abuse will knock on every door possible to spread awareness on the scourge of alcohol and drugs in the country.

Her Majesty the Queen Mother Tshering Pem Wangchuck flagged off the drugs and alcohol awareness campaign from the Clock Tower Square yesterday in the presence of cabinet ministers, dignitaries, members of the civil society organisations, and the public.

The campaign themed ‘Society of concern, together for a healthier and happier Bhutan’ will cover eight dzongkhags in the next two months.

Of the 60, 12 were present at the clock tower square to make their pledges in person.

A recovering addict, Nima pledged that he, along with the other 59 members, commits to make society a drug-free one and not stand by idly and only watch. “We’ll bring the change,” he said.

Nima and his friends will embark on a drug and alcohol awareness cycling excursion aimed at garnering support for drug treatment and rehabilitation. The proceeds from this programme will provide free treatmeant to at least 200 addicts.

Alcohol and drug addiction problems have been rising in the past few years and calls to urgently address the issue are frequently made.

The executive director of Chithuen Phendhey Association (CPA), Tshewang Rinzin, said: “Drug and alcohol addiction are not personal problems, they never were,” he said.

Use of drugs and alcohol beverages, despite rules and regulations, is not considered a problem, which is why many children are exposed to alcohol as much as the elders, he said.

Alcoholism is the leading cause of death in our country besides family breakages, domestic violence, and road accidents, among others.

In 2015 the country’s total domestic expenditure on alcoholic beverages, tobacco and other narcotics was Nu 1.7 billion. The same amount of money was spent privately on education.

The campaign has three aspects: a community-based drugs and alcohol advocacy and awareness programme, mindful parenting – drug prevention and education programme, and awareness raising through the media.

Leading the community-based advocacy programme, Visey Dolkar, said that the idea is to encourage people to come forward to seek help from the CPA and direct those who need help to rehabilitation centres. “We’ll also explain about the laws on drugs and alcohol for people to understand the consequences,” she said.

Supported by the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA), the programme will cover public transport venues and the business community and is expected to aid in the fight against illegal trafficking of drugs and other harmful substances.

The mindful parenting programme will reach out to parents, teachers, office-goers, colleges, and educational institutions.

“Besides explaining the science of addition, we’ll share about the important aspects such as how to help a person with addiction or those getting addicted,” said CPA programme officer, Yeshi Tshomo.

A current problem is that drug addiction is often stigmatised as being a disgraceful individual habit. In reality, drug abuse occurs because of social and economic factors which force individuals into inescapable trap of addiction, executive director Tshewang Rinzin said.

He added that the country needs more rehabilitation centres to treat drug users. He said the country must come together to mitigate this social menace. Parents, teachers, and all other adults must play a vital and effective role in fighting against the this social menance that is claiming many lives every year, he said.

Since 2010 there has not been a significant rise in arrests related to drug use and its illicit trafficking.

Police records as of June 2016 show that 296 cases related to possession of controlled substances and its illegal transaction were reported last year, while 370 and 289 cases were reported in 2014 and 2013 respectively. Since police began a major crackdown on drugs on December 2, 2013, 1,373 persons were arrested as of October 23 last year. Of the total, 789 are aged below 24.

Reports from RENEW show that alcohol is the leading cause of physical violence against women and children.

The Cabinet endorsed the alcohol policy in January last year. According to the policy, the per capita adult (15 years) pure alcohol consumption among Bhutanese at 8.47 litres is higher than the global consumption at 6.2 litres. It was found that drinking among the Bhutanese was not only pervasive but that those who drink consumed alcohol in a hazardous manner.

“Every 2 in 5 currently drink alcohol, and among them, 1 in 5 engage in heavy episodic drinking, which is more than six standard drinks on any occasion,” the policy states.

Tshering Palden