One in five students has used cannabis while one in six students has reported using solvents according to the findings of the National Drug Use (NDU) Survey carried from October to December last year. The survey also found that one in two students has used alcohol at least once.
The survey was conducted in two settings: school and university based and community based. 9368 students, from class 7 to university, made up the sample group for the school and university setting according to the Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA), which carried out the survey.
The survey also showed that among university students only 30 percent of students are untouched by alcohol. “About 67 percent of university students use their pocket money to buy alcohol, drugs and other substances. An unreasonable account of pocket money is the main source of buying drugs,” said Karma Tenzin of BNCA’s Demand Reduction Division.
Karma Tenzin said survey was conducted to estimate prevalence of tobacco, alcohol and other drug use and to determine the risk and protective factors associated with drug use.
The other objective was also to evaluate adverse health consequences of drug use and to explore service utilization and the challenges related to it.
The survey also showed that only 7 percent are dependent on tobacco, 2 percent are dependent on cannabis, 0.9 percent on alcohol and 0.5 percent on solvents.
The survey also showed that the average age of using tobacco for the first time is 14 years, 15 years for alcohol use and 16 years for cannabis and other illicit drugs.
“There is a lag period of two years between the on-set of illicit drug use such as tobacco and alcohol to initiation of illicit drug use such as cannabis and other drugs. So there is an opportunity of 2 years during which time effective interventions can be implemented in to prevent them for getting in to harder substances,” Karma Tenzin said.
A total of 2164 individuals responded to the community based survey that selected people currently using or someone who has used substances in the past year. Some of the key findings were that cannabis, tobacco, opioids, alcohol followed by solvents and sedatives were the most commonly abused drugs amongst the drug users in the country.
“Cannabis may be the most commonly abused drug because it grows plenty in the country,” Karma Tenzin said. “It was also found that, most of the drug users are Poly drug user, those people who uses multiple substances at same time.”
The general recommendations to address multiple drug use are demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction Karma Tenzin said.
Meanwhile, health minister Tandin Wangchuk, said that Bhutan is facing rising cases of cannabis use while pharmaceutical opioids remain the second most commonly used drug in Bhutan.
“The problem of youths using drug is on the rise around the world. It is high time now to redefine the roles of parents and teachers. Parents and teachers must work hand in hand in nurturing and monitoring younger generation,” he said.
Lyonpo also said that studies show that when parents monitor their adolescents closely and have good knowledge about their whereabouts adolescents are 20% less likely to use harmful drugs. On the other hand, teachers can have a positive influence on children and youth to help them grow happy and resilient.
BNCA Director General Phuntsho Wangdi emphasized on the urgency to deal with the situation collectively before the problem overwhelms. “Though there are various challenges we as a society must recognize the problem and work together to resolve it,” he said.
BNCA received funding support from Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and technical support from UNODC to carry out the survey, which comes eight years after the National Baseline Assessment (NBA) Survey in 2008.