Removing the stigma attached to substance abuse is the biggest challenge to advocates  

A team of eight recovering addicts has come together to advocate on rehabilitation services and substance use disorders along the highway in Thimphu.

Chithuen Phendey Association (CPA) is supporting the team with the recovery walk and highway advocacy. The recovery walk started on September 1 from the Trashichhodzong to the bus station in Lungtenzampa until Chuzom.

The awareness highlights the importance of demand reduction methods like advocacy and awareness and supply reduction measures such as implementing strong policy and regulations to reduce the issues of drug and alcohol addictions.

Tshering Pem who has been sober for nine years is the lone woman in the team. She said that the regulations and policies implemented are difficult to follow. “The policies put in place do not have our voice because when we follow the regulation, we find them different and unfamiliar.”

She said that an addict who wishes to avail rehabilitation services is mandated to have an attendant for detoxification before going to the rehab centre. “An addict is often compelled to live on streets after he or she is left without support from family, friends, and society. How can such person afford to get an attendant? In this way we are pushed away,” said Tshering Pem.

Tshering Pem is a social worker and has worked as a peer counselor for the Youth Development Fund.

Twenty youth volunteers joined the recovering team for the advocacy at the bus station. They distributed brochures with information on offences and penalties for illegal possessions of controlled substances, talked to commuters about the issues of drugs and importance of prevention education.

The advocates are also briefing drivers and commuters on the ill effects of substance abuse, illicit trafficking, and discrimination attached to the addicts.

Rinchen Tobgay, 24, is sober for two years. He said that advocacy and awareness plays a vital role in preventing an individual from getting into drugs and alcohol.

He said that there is a need to fight social stigma attached to those affected by addiction and alcohol. “We are losing thousands of youth to drugs. We hear stories of five to six people apprehended weekly for possessions of illegal substances. These youth can be saved if we work together,” he said. “Many parents feel that treatment is not necessary and they don’t disclose the problem because of the stigma attached to it.”

Tshewang Rinzin, 28, said that recovering addicts face difficulties in getting back to the society.  “We are looked as a different person. When we apply for a job, we are never trusted as a capable person. We may have changed but not the society,” he said.

The recovery walk and the advocacy is the second phase of national drug awareness campaign that started in April this year.