41 dead and counting: Bhutan’s growing Drug problem
A 29-year old man died due to drug overdose at the Intensive Care Unit of the Thimphu national referral hospital, on Monday.
The 29-year old was brought in a state of coma to the emergency ward at around 5:30 pm on 4 February. Hospital staff had recovered some Spasmo Proxyvon and white tablets from the deceased’s pockets.
This is not the first death under such conditions, as records with concerned agencies reflect 41 such deaths in a span of 10 years.
What is disturbing is that Drug overdose deaths have also been increasing rapidly in the last few years particularly from 2007 onwards till date highlighting the increasing number of people falling victim to drug addiction.
The sheer volume and increasing accessibility of drugs is also making it difficult for the police to stop the flow of Bhutan’s drug trade.
There is an increase in the number of mainly young people getting hooked to the substance.
Though the problem threatens to over swamp sections of Bhutanese youth the government is yet to even carry out a proper survey and analysis of drug abuse and deaths in Bhutan. Except for the occasional NGO Bhutan’s young drug addicts have little or no government support.
The figures compiled with the Narcotics Drug Law Enforcement Unit (NDLEU) of the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) states that out of 41 death cases in its records, six are female while the remaining were males which included students, unemployed youth and adults.
Over the past 10 years, starting from 2001 to 2010, a total of 17 people have died due to overdose in Phuentsholing followed by Thimphu with 13 people, three in Punakha, and one each in Trashigang, Gomtu, and Bumthang.
In 2011, four cases were reported across the country with three in Phuentsholing and one in Thimphu.
In 2012 eight overdose cases were reported across the country. With one case each in Paro, Sarpang, Lhamoizingkha, Samdrupjongkhar, Gedu, Thimphu and Pasakha.
One case of overdose from Darjeeling was reported in 2008, one from Siliguri in 2009 and one from Chennai in 2010. Police officials claim that there are many more cases of drug overdose in India and Bhutan but they go unreported.
No proper survey has been done by concerned authorities on the drug overdose and drug abuse cases.
Signs and symptoms of an overdose vary depending on the drug exposure and the cause of an overdose is either by accidental overuse or intentional misuse, said a doctor from the hospital.
“Pharmaceutical drugs find their way into Bhutan through the Phuentsholing border gate, Jaigaon which is the main source of drugs as these drugs are not available in the country. These are the drugs which are the cause of deaths and may become a leading cause of death if not monitored,” said a senior police officer.
Though Marijuana is found in Bhutan and is considered a drug no cases have been reported where Marijuana has caused deaths.
According to police officials if the illegal transaction of drugs is monitored well at the border sites, then drug related issues would be controlled.
A major contributor to trend of overdose deaths is due to the use of the pharmaceutical drugs like Spasmo Proxyvon, Relipen and Nitrosun-10, which has increased over the past few years, according to the police.
The NDLEU of Thimphu police seized 1,779 capsules of Spasmo Proxyvon, 293 tablets of Nitrosun-10, 35 tablets of Relipen in 2011.
While last year as of 26 December, 7,454 capsules of Spasmo Proxyvon, 79 tablets of Nitrosun-10, and 2,985 tablets of Relipen and about 106 Corex bottles were seized.
In 2011, a total of 1,545.3 grams of marijuana was seized.
16 people in 2011 and 12 people in 2012 were arrested in connection with the illegal transaction of controlled substance.
For possession of controlled substances, 295 people were detained in 2011 and 270 persons in 2012.
Between the years of 1989 to 2005, about 817 arrests were made by the police on drug related issues.
Despite police personnel keeping strict vigilance at checkpoints at the border, smugglers still make it through the checkpoints since police personnel are unable to check each and every vehicle and passenger on the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway where Traffic averages to more than 1,000 vehicles a day.
Some of the Thimphu residents The Bhutanese talked to said that if the drug related issues are not addressed properly, entire generations of young Bhutanese would be at risk.
Others feel that parents must play a vital role in addressing the issue as many parents do not seem to be aware that their children are hooked on drugs. Some live in denial.
The first drug abuse arrest in Bhutan was made in Gelephu on 29 June, 1989, after the police caught a man abusing marijuana.
Dr. D.K. Nirola, Psychiatrist with the JDWNRH said that drug overdosing is a serious issue that has to be addressed. The hospital has seen an increase in the numbers of drug overdose related deaths.
Explaining the symptoms, the Doctor said drugs have an effect on the entire body and causes respiratory depression.
Some experts say some symptoms of drug overdose like chest pain can be caused by heart or lung damage. Shortness of breath may occur. Breathing may get rapid, slow, deep, or shallow.
It is also said that specific drugs can damage specific organs, depending on the drug.
According to police, almost 70% of drugs are smuggled into Thimphu from Phuentsholing as parcels.
Most of the drug overdose cases are not reported to police with the fear of legal consequences said the officer-in-charge of Drug unit in Thimphu police station.