Wednesday, May 22, Royal Thimphu College. Students are shuffling into the auditorium where stage is set prim and proper. The programme that is set to begin at 2.45 pm doesn’t start until 3 o’clock. And the auditorium is only half full.
The five speakers for the Forum for Drug Addiction and Recovery, a programme initiated by the college in partnership with Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA), walk up to the stage and take their seat.
The programme is part of the college’s campaign to reduce alcohol and drug use among students. A doctor, a social worker, counsellors, and recovering addicts brace themselves to speak. Janet Schofield (PhD), Senior Advisor and Professor of Social Psychology at the college, who is the forum moderator, introduces the speakers to the small audience comprising mostly students.
And the speakers take their turn. Tshewang Tenzin, a recovering addict and a member of Chithuen Phendhey Association, an association of recovering addicts, shares his experience. It has been six and a half years since he won his battle against addiction
“Had there been rehabilitation and drop-in centres like we have today, I would have long been able to stop doing drugs. I wanted to stop but just didn’t know how to,” says Tshewang, who dreamed of becoming a pilot. Recovering process was hard, he tells the students. “I have seen my friends overdose.”
And like Tshewang, for Dechen Wangmo, a recovering addict who is a peer counsellor at the Rehabilitation Centre in Serbithang, kicking her addiction was very difficult. When she was 17, she took to drinking heavily. At 18, she bore a child. But she continued drinking. She divorced her husband and her drinking habit got worse. She started to steal from her parents, sometimes even from choesham to buy drinks.
But today, Dechen is clean of her addiction. She says, “I am now a transformed person. Don’t fight [addiction] alone. It is difficult. Seek help from friends and family and the centre. We can overcome addiction that way.” Dechen thanks the audience for being part of her recovering process. There is a loud applause from the audience.
Alcohol is the most common substance abused in Bhutan that damages physical and psychological health of a person. Dr Nirola, a psychiatrist with Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital, says people believe that when they are depressed, alcohol is a treatment. “But it can cause anxiety and harm the systems in the body and cause permanent damage to the brain.” Marijuana is another major substance abused in Bhutan. It causes amotivational syndrome in users. The user becomes amotivated and lazy.
The majority of abusers arrested are youth. Marijuana is easily accessible and alcohol is socially acceptable. Since 2001, drug use cases increased but the trend has been slowly decreasing after 2009.
Lama Shenphen Zangpo, an avid social worker, says society should realise that a person who is addicted to substances are not fundamentally bad and it should help them leave the habit. Only then will they be able to deal with the problem of addiction. “Society should reach out to help.”
At the end of the session, Dr Janet makes an announcement before the question-answer session. Smoking cessation group will begin on May 23 on the campus. “Anyone considering quitting smoking can come to the meeting at four o’clock to room 3 of faculty bock,” she says.
“Now that we have graduated our first class, we thought we should turn our attention to maintaining and improving the academic life, but also to recognising that students are preparing for life and not just for careers.
“It was director’s idea to try to do something that would be broadly helpful to the students and to the society because this [drug] problem not only hurts the individual but it is also very costly to the society,” says Dr Janet, who heads the college’s Outreach and Advocacy Committee.