Drug abuse and illicit trafficking of controlled substances is a growing issue in Bhutan and it needs to be addressed before it gets late, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said.

The health minister said this during an event that was held to observe together the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking and the World No Tobacco day yesterday in Thimphu.

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug followed by pharmaceutical opioids in Bhutan.

According to the World Drug Report 2017, cannabis remains the most commonly used drug at the global level as well, with an estimated 183 million people having used the drug in 2014.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that youth drug abuse is on the rise around the world. “It is high time now to redefine the roles of parents and teachers. They must work hand in hand in nurturing and monitoring the younger generation.”

Studies show that when parents monitor their adolescents closely and have good knowledge about their whereabouts, adolescents are 20 percent less likely to use harmful drugs, Lyonpo said. “The children of parents that have a warm parenting style and know where their children are and what they are doing, are five times less likely to experiment the use of stimulants or controlled substances.”

Teachers also have a positive influence on children and youth to help them grow happy and resilient. “Even in difficult circumstances, children who are in school and feel a sense of belonging are less vulnerable to risky behaviors. Teacher should provide non-judgmental counseling to children and youth that need it.”

The drug report estimates that one in 20 adults between the ages of 15 and 64 years, which add up to a quarter of billion people, used at least one drug in 2014. The day is observed every year to raise awareness on the impact of drug abuse and illicit trafficking of drugs.

Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority’s (BNCA) director general, Phuntsho Wangdi, said, problems of drugs and alcohol addiction is on the rise in the country and time has come for stakeholders to realise the urgency and deal with the situation collectively before the problem overwhelms the country.

“Examples around the world show that if drug issues are not addressed holistically and on time, these will not only destroy the lives of individuals and their families but also the peace and security of our society and the country,” he said.

Phuntsho Wangdi said some argue that the supply of drugs must be controlled to stop the users while others say that unless there is no demand, suppliers will continue to exploit the situation to make their selfish gains.

“But what we must understand is that, both supply and demand must gain equal attention if the situation has to be controlled,” he said. “Most importantly, preventing youth from even getting into the situation in the first place is critical and for which, every home, communities and institutions must play their part.”

Phuntsho Wangdi said no one decides to be an addict and neither is addiction a character flaw. “Addiction can happen to anyone at any time and when it does, it takes away the soul of the person and his capacity to reason out for himself thus requiring our support and care.”

Those arrested for abusing controlled substance and referred to the BNCA for assessment of severity of their addiction gave various reasons for abusing drugs.

Phuntsho Wangdi said some take drugs due to curiosity and to experiment, others under peer pressure while many do to escape the realities of the challenges offered by the modern world.

“There are many complex challenges but we cannot be complacent and must garner our resources to respond to the problem appropriately at various levels. Bhutanese as a society must recognise the problem and work together to resolve it,” he added.

Coinciding with the Anti-Drug Day, World No Tobacco Day, which is usually observed on May 31 every year, was also observed yesterday.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said that every year, WHO and partners mark the day on May 31 to highlight the health and additional risks associated with tobacco use, advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

This year, WHO is calling on countries to prioritise and accelerate tobacco control efforts as part of their response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Strengthening the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco in all countries is an additional target to be met by governments developing national sustainable development responses, Lyonpo added.

Lyonpo said it is important to highlight the bitter facts of ill effects of tobacco and its adverse consequences to the economy.

WHO report states that more than seven million people die from tobacco use every year, of which 1.3 million deaths are from South-East Asia alone. The report also states that tobacco use costs national economies enormously through increased health-care costs and decreased productivity.

Lyonpo said that an increasing number of countries are now creating firewalls to defend against interference from the tobacco industry in government tobacco control policy.

BNCA organised the event in collaboration with health ministry and partners at the Clock Tower Square in Thimphu yesterday.

Dechen Tshomo