The issue of substance abuse is fast growing to be one of the biggest banes of the modern times. Going by incident reports, the number of people peddling and abusing controlled substances seems to be increasing by the year. What is worrying is that this scourge is affecting the most promising and productive section of our society – youth.

We know that abusers and traffickers of controlled substances come from all sections of the Bhutanese society. It includes students, civil servants, private employees and pensioners. Until as recently as early November this year, police intercepted and registered 70 substance abuse and trafficking cases in Phuentsholing alone. This is how big the problem has grown to.

What is clear is that we are employing measures to address the issue sporadically but are not at all serious about our efforts. There was a lot of finger pointing going on recently when SP+ became an issue. What we now know is that Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) has been sitting without board members for a long time. This reflects how serious we are with the issue of substance abuse and trafficking in the country.

National Assembly and National Council are deliberating the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Bill. The time is most opportune. National Council amended 16 provisions, including the lists of banned substances. Lawmakers need to employ reason and vision while discussing the Bill. We are talking about the future of our children and that of the nation.

One of the significant features of the amendment Bill that the National Council endorsed yesterday is the change to section 59. It says “the board may amend the schedules including addition, deletion of substances in the schedule or the whole schedule and/or quantification of any of the substances deemed to be abused or trafficked, upon the recommendation of the competent technical advisory committee formed under it.” Now that the board members have been identified and suggested, meetings should happen frequently to update the list of controlled substances and to shape the course of the authority, among others. In case of a vacancy, the government should appoint a member to fill the vacancy within 30 days. So, there is no issue of quorum.

Because the issue concerns the health of this nation, we need to be a little more serious about it. Just by way of example, the nation is in need of more rehabilitation centres and counsellors. There is a need to fill the gap between treatment of clients and reintegrating them in the society as productive contributors to the nation. These are the issues we need to consider when we debate substance abuse and trafficking.