Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) is an agency which receives drug offenders who are referred by RBP. They have categorized the abusers as low, moderate and high risk, whereby the offenders under high risk (with certain criteria) are sent to rehab while the low and moderate offenders were put into treatment.
They run two programs simultaneously; outpatient counseling program and residential program. They receive an offender who has just started doing drug and are into addiction. The program is called the Treatment Assessment Panel (TAP),
Repeat offenders make up around 10 percent and they get three chances whereby on the fourth time, they will be referred to police and will be charged for misdemeanor with compulsory treatment and rehabilitation for not less than one year.
Depending upon the repetition, they increase the duration of their treatment. The counseling term goes from one month up to one year. There are abusers who come to BNCA on their own wanting to go to rehab and there are some who voluntarily go to rehab in India and in Paro.
BNCA has challenges having to deal with drug abusers from all works of life. The Deputy Chief Dorji Tshering who is a certified addiction counselor of BNCA, said that, if they go by number of drug offenders apprehended by police who were referred to them, the number is in fact gradually increasing.
“I have basically come to a realization that many people say that when people are sent to rehab, the number of drug abuser decrease and its all to do with alcohol. However, people do not realize that people who are into drugs are stigmatized and discriminated in society”, he said.
Thereby, he said that, they need support to come forward otherwise they hide themselves which is why they further get into drugs. “Once they get into addiction it is difficult for them to stop. There could be many who are continuing drugs and who don’t come forward to seek help,” he said.
“That could be because they do not want to spoil their family name, some may not know how to seek support and some do not want to lose their job,” he added.
Meanwhile, he said that, although TAP is supposed to function separately, they are functioning under BNCA for now with a panel comprising of professionals.
He said that people are assuming that, the TAP in Thimphu is a national TAP which is not the case as they have started the same TAP program in Wangdue, Mongar, Gelephu and Phuentsholing in 2017. They are currently functioning and they are actually supposed to function like the one in Thimphu, but it isn’t going as well due to lack of professionals.
However, he said, “The workload is somehow being divided. If not for the four other places, TAP in Thimphu would be bogged down with numbers of drug abusers.”
The bigger challenge they face at the moment is non-compliance. He said, “Although by law people are given the opportunity to change themselves through various provisions, yet for some reasons, we are not able to ensure that all those who are referred to us comply.”
He also said that, the other challenging to deal with most of the drug offenders referred is, they do not have proper parents or guardians. “This could be because most of them are living here with their relatives and friends. Thereby they do not have proper people to support them”, he said.
When the time comes to follow up they put their mobile off and that way they lose track of offenders. He also said that, those who are heavily into addiction are referred to rehab for long term treatment (three to six months) in Serbithang.
The center in Serbithang is a Compulsory Drug Treatment Center and was started in March 2018. To begin with, the capacity of the center is 20 to 25 whereby they kept the provision for female offenders as well.
As of now (March to November), they have 66 offenders in the center of which 25 made an attempt to abscond from the treatment center but all came back to the center on their own. However, they have to start the treatment from the very beginning. There are six offenders who absconded the center and never came back.
Absconding from the center is another big challenge, he said. “For few weeks absconding was rampant, however with time it has subsided. They are drug users and this is understood that this is the nature of addiction. And due to cravings and triggers, they tend to run at night”, he added.
With the center being new, they do not have proper infrastructure, no proper walls around the campus and no security. Counselors sometime have to act like a policeman for clients in the center which is another challenge. They also do not have many professionals in the field and even to recruit trained addiction professionals in such programs are challenging, he said. BNCA therefore has taken the initiative to train interested teachers in the schools after an interview.
“For now, the center in Serbithang has two professionals who has prior working experience in rehab but they are not really trained addiction counselor though. In addition, we have a few peer counselors”, he said.
There are cases were offenders fail to comply (complete the treatment course) once they are referred. In such cases, they sometime seek help from police. Initially there were difficulties, however they are hopeful about addressing this issue. “Getting manpower support from police in rehab would deter the absconding cases. We are yet to get the confirmation from police though”, he said.
Nevertheless, he said that, despite so much challenges, BNCA has had some achievement. He said, “We have been able to build the capacity of the school counselors and certified them as addiction professionals. We have 25 teachers who were certified and currently working in schools.”
Currently, they are training the second batch of 38 people from different works of life. “We need professional counselors to provide clients help. So this is the greatest achievements we have made”, he added.
They may not be able to resolve the drug issue completely but it has to be a concerted effort from all way of society to curve down the issue, he said. He said that the perception of parents and the selling of tobacco products should be looked into as well.