Despite efforts to address it at all levels, drug abuse continues to remain a problem in the country. The gravity of the problem is evident in the number of cases the police shared recently.

Police detained 32 persons last month for possessing and abusing controlled substances. This means that at least one person was arrested every day in Thimphu, rendering the meaning of ‘controlled’ redundant. These substances remain controlled on paper but access, abuse and illicit trafficking remain uncontrolled.

Numbers hide as much as they reveal. The 22 individuals referred to the treatment assessment panel are between 17 and 32 years. They are students, unemployed and the employed, representing a bulk of our young population.

Studies have found that abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs were the main triggers for criminal deviancy among young people. A recent NSB study found that 40 percent of crimes among young people were committed under the influence of alcohol, and 12 percent under the influence of controlled substances. Offences related to controlled and other harmful substances were the most common offence among youth.

These numbers show that controlled substances are anything but controlled. Top that with alcohol, a legally available initiator to drugs and we have a toxic problem. We have studies, facts and numbers, all telling us about the drug abuse problem. We know why our youth are taking to drugs. We even know how they abuse drugs and where they get it. We know that there are laws in place.

So what is it that we do not know yet about the drug abuse problem? What is it that these numbers are hiding that young people are still getting arrested everyday? What is it that is actually controlled?

We are aware that there are agencies working hard to seek solutions. They have turned around lives of those who took to drugs and their successes offer hope. But challenges remain and more needs to be done. The youth are our present and the future. Their problems, as diverse as they may be are ours and ours to address. They must be heard so that they listen to us. They must be understood so that we can make them understand that they are the country’s future.

Perhaps, it is the social constructions and the stigma that needs to be controlled as much. Substance abuse is not just a youth problem. It is a national problem.