l Usha Drukpa, Thimphu
While the efforts of the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) and agencies like the Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA), in curbing substance abuse from source to consumers have almost cleaned the streets of Thimphu and other towns, abusers have found alternatives. Making the challenge of curbing those who have jumped to these alternatives difficult is the fact that the country does not have kits to check ursine to ascertain consumption of these substances.
However, these substances are not new to Bhutan. Once considered as the substances abused by teenagers, due to the low price and accessibility, these are thinners, dendrites, correction fluid and even petrol. Though the government had issued directives to refrain the sale of these substances, it continues due to poor monitoring and awareness.
Few days back, a youth was spotted abusing thinner at the centenary park. Caretaker of the park, Dorji, said that as the park is an alcohol, tobacco and drug free area, he immediately called the police. Though the alleged was taken by the police, no action could be taken due to lack of evidence, especially kits to check and confirm that the alleged had abused substances.
Meanwhile, abusers, especially school going children are on the rise. Seeking anonymity, a student of a school in Thimphu said that the crackdown by the RBP has opened new doors. “I used to hear friends discussing how they could buy spasmoproxypon (SP) as it was expensive. I believe one file (8 pieces) of the substance cost about Nu 300. Now, everyone seems to be bringing their own quota of correction fluid and others,” he said, adding that the toilets of his school smell of these substances. According to him, the most abused are sniffing Inhalants/solvents, glues and paint thinners.
A recovering addict told The Journalist that from the lens of affects to one’s health “the glues” are the worst. “It kills your brain cells. You forget everything and to keep and maintain the kick, you have to inhale the substance continuously,” he said. Availability of the substances and ease of abusing are the pulling factors. “You can put or spray a little of these substances on your handkerchief and sniff even in the open. No one will know,” he said.
Plastic bags are also used to abuse these substances. For instance few drops of dendrite can be put into an airtight plastic bag. Abusers can then start sniffing and get the kick immediately. Sonam, who has abused almost all substances available in Bhutan says these substances are the gateway to other drugs. “Bhutan is a small place. Once you abuse these substances, you come in contact with people who abuse tablets, cough syrups and others. You are then lured into the new world,” he said.
Underlining that dendrites, correction fluids and similar substances call for continuous abuse, Sonam narrated how he used to always carry a handkerchief or a small towel smeared with the substances to class. “To ensure that the smell does not create a problem, I used to wear perfumes and I was called as the ‘Perfume Boy,’ he said.
The Journalist learnt that most hardware and stationary shops, including general shops sell these substances. Though, well established shops are aware that the substances can be abused and so refrain from selling these to all customers, especially the youth, sales persons of several shops, especially the general shops are not aware of these issues. When questioned if she was aware, a sales girl said no one educated her. “How will we know when no one tells us,” she questioned, admitting that in the past week, she sold several packets of dendrite and correction fluid. “Most were students and I thought that they needed it for their home works,” she said.
The health hazards of sniffing Inhalants/solvents, glues and paint thinners are hypoxia (lack of oxygen) which can cause instant death and cardiac failure/ arrest.
In the long term, it will cause hearing loss, limb spasms and damage to the central nervous systems and brain. Serious, but potentially reversible, effects include liver and kidney damage and blood oxygen depletion. Death is generally caused by a very high concentration of fumes. These can be considered psychedelic drugs as it can cause visual and auditory hallucinations.
Meanwhile, a police officer said that the RBP is aware of the “new trend.” “Our policy for substance abuse is Zero Tolerance and we will eradicate this problem also,” he said.