Cases of substance abuse on the rise, youth at the center of it

Cases of substance abuse continue to be one of the highest among those registered with the Thimphu district court, involving mostly youth. Most of the substances they abuse are those that are smuggled in by drug peddlers.

The records show that since January this year, 114 cases related to substance abuse excluding tobacco have been registered with the Narcotic Drugs Law Enforcement Unit (NDEU) of Royal Bhutan Police (RBP). And about 40 of them have been forwarded to the court.

The agencies concerned like the Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA), health and education ministries and RBP conduct various programs for the youth to keep them away from substance abuse.

For example, BNCA trains school teachers who in turn counsel their students in their counseling classes as a preventive measure.

BNCA  also has drop-in-centers where youth abusing any substance are counseled by peer counsellors.

The officiating chief of Demand Reduction Division (DRD), under BNCA, Sonam Jamtsho, said NDEU looks after those drug users who are convicted. Peers from the agency counsel drug users with NDEU twice a week.

Similarly, Sports Coalition in Action (SCIA), a project under Youth Development Fund (YDF), takes care of youth who abuse substance to keep them engaged, said the project manager, Sonam Lhamo. SCIA sends youth for job training programs that help them get employed and facilitates peer counseling.

Nazhoen Pelri Drop-in-Centre under YDF also provides services to alcohol and drug dependants. Meditation classes, individual and group counseling sessions, and  computer classes are conducted.

“But if it is a severe case, we refer them to a detox unit in the hospital where they are kept for three days,” said a manager at the centre, Tshering Choki. Then, they are  sent to the rehab centre at Serbithang for three months.

Officials from the district court say youth and unemployed citizens abuse substances the most. A good portion of people abusing substance are found to be repeat offenders.

Sonam Jamtsho said youth who relapse after counseling are not sent back to rehab centers by the court.

Meanwhile,  the Penal Code of Bhutan states that it is an offense to import or export restricted and prohibited goods or substances. The code spells value-based sentencing for smuggling.

Lawyer Shera Lhundup of Sayang Law Chambers said alternative sentencing policy is used when it comes to youth coming in conflict with law. Instead of sending them to hard core prisons, youth are sentenced to rehabilitation centers where they can learn vocational skills, he said.

Shera Lhundup, however, feels the need for a change in the sentencing policy. He says there is a need for a legislation that ensures win-win situation between the law enforcer and the youth.



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