Thursday, 25 September 2008

Bhutan : Jaigaon medical shops: Initiative to cut drug supply at source

25 September, 2008 - With most of the 20 or more medical shops in Jaigaon selling prescription drugs, the source of most drug-related cases in Bhutan are traced there.

Bottled and unbottled drugs, as well as marijuana, which most users describe as “herbal” are easily available through peddlers and medical shops. A high school drop out drug user said that drugs such as Relipen, Spasmoproxylon and cough syrups were easily available in Jaigaon in most medical shops. “Sometimes I pay the peddlers, who buy the drugs in Jaigaon and walk across the main gate for me,” he said.

But this easy availability of drugs from shop counters will be short lived if authorities on both sides of the Phuentsholing gate come together to crack down on both sellers and peddlers.

An initiative has begun with a non-government organisation in Jaigaon, Umeed Foundation, creating awareness on the ills of drug abuse in Jaigaon last week.

The chairman of the foundation, Dr Nag, said that drug abuse is a problem for both governments and needs cooperation from both high and grass-root levels to solve the problem. “The foundation sent several letters to stakeholders in Jaigaon to discuss the issue and also to seek cooperation from our Bhutanese counterparts,” he said.

Jaigaon police last week raided medical shops and three of them were caught selling drugs. The officer in charge of Jaigaon Police, A Gupta, said that a few medical shops running without a license were also closed and drug peddlers detained and interrogated.

As per the Indian Drugs and Cosmetics Act, all schedule-H drugs should be sold with proper medical prescription, but that remains only on paper. “Drug cases are all registered under the NDPS act and dealt with strictly,” he said.

Locals in Jaigaon said that most customers were young Bhutanese, a majority of whom purchased marijuana in huge quantities. “Marijuana is available mostly from small shops with prices ranging between Nu 10 to Nu 200,” said a regular user of marijuana.

The Umeed Foundation’s initiative may be a beginning but observers feel that cooperation from both governments could root out the source of the drugs. “If the source is banned, a huge chunk of the problem is already solved,” said a civil servant.

Another observer said that drug users openly say that they buy drugs from across the border in Jaigaon, but not much has been done to stop it. “The flow of cash overshadows the chemist’s social responsibility, with most of them selling drugs without asking for prescriptions,” he said. “India and Bhutan enjoy good relations, this shouldn’t be a problem.”

The executive director of Bhutan narcotics control authority (BNCA), Kinlay Dorji, said that they are aware of the situation and working on the possibilities.

By Passang Norbu

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