Bhutan: Royal celebrations for World Drug Day

Bhutan commemorated this year's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with the inauguration of its third drop-in centre for drug users in Bumthang, some eight hours road drive away from the capital Thimpu. Queen Mother -Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Pem, graced the occasion and launched also the ever-first National Baseline Assessment on Drugs and Controlled Substance use in Bhutan (NBA), 2009- a study jointly conducted by the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA) and UNODC.

Bhutan is usually known for its pristine forest-covered mountain scenery spotted picturesquely with Buddhist Monasteries and prayer flags as well as for its state policy for comprehensive well-being of its people, enshrined in the principle of "Gross National Happiness". Drug use does not seem to fit into this picture, but the Royal Government of Bhutan is well aware of that it has been seeping into the country for some years now.  Whereas overall numbers of drug use are low, the ever-first National Baseline Assessment on Drugs and Controlled Substance Use in Bhutan showed some new patterns such as:

  • drug use does not only take place in border towns, but all over the country
  • used substances include cannabis, heroin/brown sugar, codeine-containing cough syrup, prescription drugs such as nitrazepam and dextroproppoxyphene as well as solvents and yaba
  • injecting drug use has started. Used substances include heroin/brown sugar, buprenorphine, benzodiazepine, dextropropoxyphene and pethidine
  • seven per cent of the interviewed drug users were women
  • there is a knowledge gap with regard to correct information on HIV transmission routes

Now with these data in hand, the Bhutanese Government is reinforcing actions in the area of drug use prevention and drug treatment.  During the commemorations of World Drug Day, the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA) launched a set of new Information, Education and Communication (IEC) material using UNODC's key messages, which address drug and HIV issues.

Also, the new website of BNCA was launched and most importantly, the first drop-in-center was inaugurated in Bumthang, located in the center of Bhutan. At this center, drug users can find information and help. The center also provides space and equipment for leisure time activities. A group of outreach workers supports the work of the drop-in-center. During the inauguration they staged a typical scene on drug use in a family, its relation with domestic violence and how the family found help with the support of the peer helpers.

The event was attended by Her Majesty,  Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Pem,  Mr. Lyonpo Zangley Dukpa, the Health Minister, Royal Government of Bhutan, Ms. Cristina Albertin, UNODC Regional Representative for South Asia and Ms. Gepke Hingst, UNICEF Country Representative as well as by many local authorities and of course the BNCA.

The UNODC-supported National Baseline Assessment on Drugs and Controlled Substance use in Bhutan (NBA) was possible thanks to the contribution of AusAID, the Australian Agency for Development Cooperation.

This article was written by Cristina Albertin, UNODC Representative for South Asia who attended this event.