Youth and drugs: early intervention and support necessary

Access to drugs, experimenting substance abuse and peer pressure, are the most common reasons why school-going children today get into substance abuse.

This is according to education ministry’s career education and counselling division (CECD).

The record maintained with the division shows that a total of 521 (467M and 54F) students from 96 schools were either referred to or had sought voluntary counselling for substance use. A total of 257 of the students had availed of counselling services on voluntary, while 164 were referred to the counsellor by the discipline committee of the school, teachers, parents, and friends.

The record shows that most of these cases were experimental and habitual use for which counsellors provide brief interventions and psychoeducation on substances. The most vulnerable age group is between 13 and 18 years old.

The record with the Royal Bhutan Police shows that of the 4,433 arrested for drug-related cases from 2014 to March 31 2019, 711 were students. The highest arrested number was in 2018 (239 students). A total of 32 students were arrested this year so far.

CECD’s officiating chief, Nidup Gyaltshen, said that although different schools had different rules to handle when a student was caught abusing substances, schools with counsellors assessed child as per the screening tool.

The screening tool measures the pattern of drug used, history of abuse, and the habit of abuse.

“After that, a counsellor determine the severity of the case, identify drugs abused and if found to be habitual the counsellor recommends a child to clinical screening and then to the psychiatrist,” he said. “The counsellors try to identify at an earlier stage and provide all the necessary support to the student.”

Today the ministry has 119 certified counsellors and looking at the importance of counselling the ministry has approved counselling as a regular part of the school. Although the department is yet to provide counsellor in each school in the country, as per the HR policy and procedure, RCSC now recruits about 20 new trained counsellors every year.

The department also works with the BNCA on compulsory treatment programme.

Nidup Gyaltshen said that there were students who came voluntarily to the counsellors.

He said that going through the report, most of the students that abused drugs were found to have abused especially from those whom the drugs are easily available, from the neighbourhood, peer pressure and a student from dysfunctional families are more vulnerable, among others.

“The most common substance the students start with are tobacco, chewing tobacco and then slowly try what is available like N10, SP, which are cheap in the market. Although it has reduced but marijuana is still common, drinking alcohol and sniffing dendrites,” Nidup Gyaltshen said.

However, the education ministry is adopting various measures and initiatives – training 9,000 teachers this summer on basic counselling skills for five days. The training will focus on understanding developmental needs, child protection, positive discipline, mental health and well being, among others.

“The training would at least introduce teachers to such skills that would be useful and relevant especially in supporting a child. This will break the barrier between the students and teachers,” Nidup Gyaltshen said.

The counselling division aims to identify the issues, design interventions, support timely intervention, and provide support.

“The number of children who sat for counselling has increased over the years,” Nidup Gyaltshen said. “Children who are seeking for counselling for any reason could approach DYS any time because we provide walk in service.”

Yangchen C Rinzin

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