Bhutan: Preventing drug overdose by building capacities of health care professionals

Globally, overdose is a leading cause of death among people who use drugs, especially opioids. The UNODC-supported National Baseline Assessment for Drug Use in Bhutan indicated the use of opioids, mainly in the form of pharmaceuticals (dextropropoxyphene, codeine, buprenorphine) in 14 out of the 20 districts in Bhutan. Mixing opioids with alcohol and sedatives is common amongst drug users in Bhutan and this increases the risk of overdose. Police, hospital records and anecdotal evidence have indicated a rise in overdose cases in Bhutan, with a significant number of them resulting in fatalities.

In this context, the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA), Royal Government of Bhutan, jointly with UNODC, conducted two trainings in Thimphu. The objective of the trainings was to build capacity of health care providers and community workers on overdose prevention and treatment services for those potentially at risk.

Twenty health care providers including doctors, nurses and health assistants and 22 community workers from seven districts of Bhutan attended the trainings. 

The training focused on the causes, risk factors, signs and symptoms of an overdose. Health care providers were given an overview of the treatment options available for overdose and the mode of delivery. The training also highlighted the role of 'Naloxone'- a life saving drug in the case of an opioid overdose.

Community workers were trained on the important role they can play in spreading awareness and educating drug users about overdose. They were also trained on providing first aid to a person who has overdosed, until medical help can be reached.

The trainings are part of an intervention led by UNODC to strengthen Bhutan's response to overdose and reduce related fatalities. After this initial training, UNODC together with BNCA will conduct a study on 'Issues affecting overdose prevention and management in Bhutan'. The study will be conducted in seven districts of Bhutan. Its findings will lay the basis for developing a national strategy on overdose prevention and management and a subsequent plan of action.

The trainings were supported by the UNODC led project 'Prevention of transmission of HIV among drug users in South Asian countries' with financial support from the Government of Australia and the Royal Government of Bhutan.