Prompted by the fact that secondary school students in Thimphu are at greater risk of drug abuse and alcohol consumption that may develop negative psychosocial, educational and mental health outcomes, a team from Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) is working on an effective drug prevention strategy in the schools.
Deputy chief program officer, BNCA, Dorji Tshering said that drug abuse was common among school students aged 10 to 19 years. “Individuals who begin using psychoactive substances at an early age are at the risk of developing negative psychosocial, educational and mental health than individuals who initiate substance use at a later age,” he said.
He added that screening for substance use among adolescents combined with appropriate intervention and follow up can help reduce substance-use related harm. “Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT) are a strategy to prevent drugs in the school.”
Dorji Tshering said SBIRT is a comprehensive, integrated, public health approach to the delivery of early intervention and treatment services for individuals with risky alcohol and drug use and those at risk of developing. “It will help students prevent trouble,” he added.
According to the National Drug Use Survey of Bhutan 2017, the lifetime prevalence of both licit and illicit drug use was high among the student populations (Alcohol (45%), smoking (35%), chewing (22%), cannabis (21%) and inhalants (8%)).
Of 423 respondent tobacco use accounted for 14.6%, alcohol 13.0%, cannabis 8%, inhalant 2.8%, and SP plus/N10 1.8% among others.
Likewise, 4,668 students from schools across the country were caught abusing drugs in 2016 and students top offences related to controlled substances in Thimphu.
Dorji Tshering said that teenagers often do not understand the impact of substance use on health. “This program will help our youth to reinforce and support safe choices,” he said adding that it will also identify early risk factors and provide early interventions.
Meanwhile, primary care centers, hospital emergency rooms, trauma centers, and community health settings provide opportunities for early intervention with at-risk substance users before more severe consequences occur.
Dorji Tshering said that patients who score high may need either a brief treatment or further diagnostic assessment and more intensive, long term specialty treatment. “Screening typically takes 5-10 minutes and can be repeated at various intervals as needed to determine changes in patients’ progress over time.”
He added that short dialogues between the counselor and the students normally help students to prevent abusing drugs. “Random drug test could also be administered to selected students to deter or ensure that they have not relapsed.”
In addition, a recent study found a single question related to drug use to be effective in detecting drug use among primary care patients.
SBIRT implemented to screen students and those at moderate and high risk shall be provided BI and psycho-education sessions once a week over a period of three months
SBIRT team members will do the screening supported by class teacher and parents of moderate and high risk students who will be involved in the interventions.
However, the schools could be asked to refer the identified students especially those at moderate and high risk to BNCA during winter vacation for a month-long counseling program.
Sharing of the SBIRT findings could be pursued with the schools either this year or next year.
Kinley Yonten from Thimphu